British Columbia

Self-governance a step closer for group of B.C. First Nations

Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw in British Columbia's Cariboo region has signed an agreement-in-principle with the provincial and federal governments, moving a step closer to establishing a formal treaty.

Agreement-in-principle signed between Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw, federal and provincial governments

Signatories to an agreement-in-principle between Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw and the federal and provincial governments pose for a photograph in Canim Lake B.C. on July 22, 2018. (BC Treaty Commission)

A group of four First Nations in British Columbia's Cariboo region have signed an agreement-in-principle with the provincial and federal governments, moving a step closer to establishing a formal treaty.

The agreement-in-principle outlines the elements of a treaty for the four communities, including land and resource ownership, harvesting rights, social services, and processes for transition from the Indian Act to self-governance. 

'Great day'

Chief Ann Louie of the T'exelc First Nation of Williams Lake said in a statement that Sunday's signing was a "great day," representing the culmination of 25 years of discussions to end the control of the Indian Act on her band.

"We have heard from others who have achieved Final Agreement of the joy of being free of the Indian Act and making their own decisions for themselves, and the benefits they have been able to achieve for their communities and members," Louie said.

The agreement signed Sunday in the Tsq'escen' community of Canim Lake begins the final stage of treaty negotiations with the communities that make up the Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw.

The BC Treaty Commission released a statement several hours later on Sunday, congratulating the parties on the agreement-in-principle and heralding it as a sign of progress for the Cariboo region. 

'New relationship'

"There are complex reconciliation issues in the area, and today's signing ... signals a commitment to a new relationship for the whole region," said Chief Commissioner Celeste Haldane in the release.

A joint statement released by the bands, the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia said the treaty informed by the agreement would be guided by the governments' "new commitments to reconciliation."

The Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw is made up of the Stswecem'c-Xgat'tem, the T'exelc, the Tsq'escen', and the Xat'sull First Nations.

The group represents more than 2,600 people and has been negotiating with the British Columbian and Canadian governments since 1996.

Modern treaties

The BC Treaty Commission says close to 40 per cent of all BC Indian Act bands are actively negotiating or already implementing a modern treaty.

In June, members of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation in north-central B.C. voted against a treaty that would have provided them with land, resource rights and the power to self-govern.