Musqueam fight fuels battle against British Columbia's Nisga'a treaty

British Columbia Liberals are using the situation facing homeowners on Musqueam land as ammunition to derail a historic treaty with the Nisga'a First Nation.

Vancouver homeowners leasing land from the Musqueam Indian band are facing whopping rent increases. The Liberal Opposition plans to draw a parallel between their plight and the possible effects of the treaty with the Nisga'a.

The unratified pact gives the 6,000 Nisga'a title to 2,000 km-sq. of land in Northwestern British Columbia's Nass River Valley as well as self-government, fishing and logging rights and about $340 million.

Debate on the treaty resumes in the legislature this afternoon after a one month break.

The Musqueam have raised the rent through the roof for people leasing their land.

For Leonard and Priscilla Fratkin, the situation has become a nightmare.

Twenty-one years ago they bought their house and accepted a federal, 100 year lease on the land. Payments have jumped to $28,000 a year from $200.

"My original hope was that one day my daughter would have this house," Leonard Fratkin told CBC News. "It would be wonderful for her. Well, it's impossible now. "

The Musqueam long since gained direct control of the land, and leaseholders say the band is forcing them out.

At a public meeting Monday, homeowner after homeowner said the Musqueam are acting unfairly and the federal government has abandoned them.

"It's sad to feel I'm no longer a real citizen but as second class citizen next to First Nations in terms of human rights," said homeowner Alex Wong. "Where is fairness and equality?"

The Musqueam say they're simply following the terms of the lease, which allow for periodic adjustments. The Federal Court of Appeal last month agreed with the band, and overturned a lower court decision.

That decision pleased Chief Ernie Campbell. "We've been successful with the appeal and I guess we just stick with the court decision," Campbell told CBC News.

Homeowners, meanwhile, are considering an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

They've also asked the federal government to buy them out of their leases, which have about 70 years left on them.

But with house values plummeting and lease rates pushing some toward bankruptcy, some homeowners are walking away from their homes.