The B.C. government has struck a deal to return lands cut off from First Nations reserves nearly a century ago under what was known as the McKenna-McBride commission of 1912-1916.

Aboriginal relations Minister Mike de Jong said the agreements settle the last of 22 historic claims that took more than 40 years to resolve.

"These agreements with the Seton Lake Indian Band, Gitwangak Band Council, Metlakatla Band and Lax Kw'alaams Indian Band, dating back more than 90 years, grew out of our collective desire to make right the past and achieve lasting reconciliation," said de Jong on Tuesday.

"I can think of no better way to celebrate B.C.'s 150th anniversary than by closing the book on the McKenna-McBride cut-off claims, which stem from the early decades of our province's history."

The deal was another in a long series of agreements the B.C. Liberal government has struck since Premier Gordon Campbell began aggressively pursuing a so-called new relationship with First Nations.

Cautious praise

While the agreement is being hailed as a major step forward, native leaders, such as former Chief Gary John of the Seton Lake band, were cautious in their praise.

"So far, in my honest opinion, the new relationship doesn't look very new yet, but we're hopeful, and we're optimistic that this is going to be the beginning of something more," said John.

"We are glad to put this difficult time in our history behind us," said Seton Lake Indian Band Chief Larry Casper Jr.

"We now move towards a future where our children can see that negotiations have a positive effect, and we look forward to continuing dialogue with the province on other issues."

Under the terms of the deal, the Seton Lake band, which is located 20 kilometres northwest of Lillooet in the southern Interior, won't get the original land back since some of it is now in private hands.

Instead, the band will get about 13 hectares of land and $600,000. John said the cash won't cover the cost of buying back all the land because it has become far too expensive in recent years.

"They said the land was worthless. Now, 80 years later, all of a sudden here we are, and the land is priceless beyond our imagination," said John.

Deals reached

Under the deal, the Gitwangak Band Council, a Gitxsan nation located at the junction of the Yellowhead and Cassiar highways in the northern Interior, will also get 7.6 hectares of the original cut-off lands, along with financial compensation of $350,000 from the federal government and the province.

The Metlakatla and Lax Kw'alaams Bands, both located near Prince Rupert, will receive provincial land parcels totalling 4,755 hectares, as well as $150,000 for each band.  Metlakatla will also get an additional settlement of approximately $3,000.

"For nearly 100 years, over 20 First Nations have endeavoured to right the wrong of the cut-off claims," said Chief Harold Leighton of the Metlakatla Indian Band.

"We are happy to stand with British Columbia and Canada today to celebrate the resolution of these claims and to move forward now with greater certainty toward a shared future," said Leighton.