British Columbia

Overlapping land claims stalling B.C. treaties, says commission

The B.C. Treaty Commission is calling on First Nations to sort out overlapping claims, with financial help from senior governments.

The B.C. Treaty Commission says several land claim negotiations are stalled because of overlapping claims and it's calling on First Nations to sort it out, with financial help from senior governments.

The commission says the thorny problem of overlapping land claims among First Nations is the result of imposed reserve boundaries and traditional sharing of the land.

Writing in the commission's annual report issued Tuesday, Chief Commissioner Sophie Pierre says it's an issue that's been brewing for the past 21 years, stalling talks at several treaty tables, and it's time to focus on resolving it.

"I believe the ground-breaking Supreme Court of Canada decision in Tsilhqot’in should destroy any lingering thoughts that this issue is not of the utmost importance and provide the necessary investment, both financial and time commitment, to reach satisfactory conclusions,"

But, the commission says, in order to do so, the province and the federal governments need to help fund research and discussions.

In its annual report, the commission points to the Tla'amin (Sliammon) first nation, which has negotiated a successful treaty by ensuring that neighbours with overlapping claims were included in side deals that allow for sharing of resources.

The report also highlighted the need to develop an exit strategy that would handle the debt of First Nations which no longer seem able to conclude a treaty.

"Those First Nations who entered negotiations, in good faith, accepted the only option open to them in terms of funding the negotiations; 80 per cent debt, 20 per cent contributions," wrote Pierre.

"Implementing a negotiated treaty is no longer an option for these First Nations, but neither is pursuing economic and social development opportunities while carrying tremendous debt.

"This is like recognizing aboriginal title — there comes a time when we can no longer avoid it!"

With files from Lisa Cordasco