Standing Committee Text
Why We’re Here
The signing of the Nisga’a Agreement-in-Principle (AIP) forms a significant step in the long journey toward resolving concerns about the land and First Nations of British Columbia. We celebrate the many decades of persistent work of the Nisga’a people and their commitment to a peaceful process of resolution. We applaud the hard work of the negotiators of both the federal and provincial governments. And we thank the provincial government for this opportunity to reflect upon the AIP and upon the larger question of its implications for the treaty process.
The United Church of Canada has an extended history of involvement with issues of land and First Nations. From the time of Thomas Crosby and the earliest Methodist missionaries we have maintained a vital interest in the health of the relationship between the native and non-native citizens of this province.1
The manner in which the fundamental questions surrounding land are to be resolved profoundly affects every citizen of this province including the native and non-native members of our church.
We hope through these reflections to contribute to the larger public discussion about the place of native and non-native people within British Columbia and the role of the treaty-making process in shaping the character of those relationships.
What We Are About
As Christians who find their home and mission base within the United Church of Canada, our contribution to the public discussion flows from reflections on themes drawn from the Christian faith and the teaching of the United Church.2 These basic convictions form the frame through which we view issues concerning land and First Nations.
We also recognize the need to move beyond general principles; therefore, in the final part of our submission, we formulate more precise benchmarks against which to evaluate both the Nisga’a AIP and the treaty process.
Though some may not share the convictions which form our particular frame of reference, we nonetheless offer these ethical benchmarks as points upon which reasonable people of diverse backgrounds might agree.
Our Basic Framework
Our basic framework is constructed from: convictions about the purpose for which human beings were created, justice, stewardship and the historical character of humanity.
Native and non-native have been created to enjoy and develop right and strong relationships with one another, the creation and God. The goal and intention of God is creation of a community marked by mutual respect, fullness of life and peace.
The need for community resides intrinsically within the nature of humanity.
God has created us individually to live in community. “We are not primarily individuals and only secondarily members of groups, not primarily members of groups and only secondarily individuals. We are both at once. Well-being, therefore, entails both individual self-fulfillment and the common good of society as a whole in harmony with each other.”3 Thus a fundamental litmus test for any action or policy is whether or not it contributes to the building and sustenance of strong relationships between fellow members of a community and between various communities.
Economic matters form a key ingredient in the mix of factors affecting individual and community well-being but they are not the only – and often not the most – determinative. The various dimensions of life – economic, political, social and spiritual – are like spokes of a wheel. They need to be in tension with each other but together revolve around the hub of healthy communities.
One key characteristic of strong, righteous and loving relationships is that each party in the relationship treats one other with equal respect or regard. Among other things, this means that one group cannot decide unilaterally what is best for the well-being of another group or person.
The general principle of equal regard also means that the intrinsic worth of people is not dependent upon cultural background or geographic location. The concerns of individuals and communities are not more or less valid depending upon whether they live in an urban or rural environment, whether they are employed or unemployed, or whether or not they control large tracts of land or none at all.
Proximity to a treaty area may well mean that a group is more knowledgeable concerning certain aspects of the impact of a treaty. But the same group may not be able to see the larger picture or determine the impact on other groups within the community.
The second governing principle is justice. Justice remains as integral a part of strong communities as sand to secure concrete.
In classic Hebrew terminology, we are created to live righteously within a complex web of relationships. In relationships between individuals and communities each must receive their due and bear their fair share of responsibilities.
The third governing principle which shapes our perspective is stewardship. This conviction has its roots in the belief that all humanity has been gifted by God with multiple gifts – including talents, the ability to reason and, in this instance, land and resources. We, in turn, are to treat these gifts with respect in the understanding that our primary role is that of caretakers. Just as the critical issue for an individual is not the number of talents and abilities but how they are nurtured and used so too with the land and its resources. The governing principle with respect to treatment of the land becomes not just whether a party has fee-simple title but whether the land and its resources are being cared for in the manner of a faithful steward.
Finally, a note concerning the depth of our frame of reference. We are historical beings. Individuals and communities do not live moment by moment. Metaphorically, we all live in houses which we did not build. The development of strong communities and webs of communities requires a view and an attitude not simply focused upon present gain or loss – political or economic – but upon processes and decisions which are able to face the past, claiming the good while confessing the harmful, even while moving toward a more righteous future.
Toward the Specific
Historically when the church intentionally enters the arena of public policy, we expose ourselves to two charges. (1) The church only talks about generalities upon which all could agree in the abstract – the importance of love and equal regard, justice and stewardship – but which give no direction in the present; or, (2) Upon what basis can the church comment upon specific policy initiatives, items for which it can claim no particular expertise or authority?
In the early part of this century some Christian ethicists began to work with middle axioms. These context-dependent guidelines provide a gauge, benchmarks, by which to evaluate specific policy, a middle ground between principles like love and justice and specific concerns like how many salmon should be caught during each fishing season.4 Middle axioms work out implications of the broader principles in light of the demands and challenges of a particular situation without becoming embroiled in some of the uncertainties of particular strategies.
Middle axioms “are agreements that the church, or perhaps some wider grouping, reaches on the general direction that social policy should take.”5 Those offered below have been through a process of testing inside and outside the church.
One of our objectives is to circulate them widely over the next few months to garner further response and foster discussion. If, as is our hope, it proves possible to establish a thoughtful and genuine consensus among many of those struggling with land issues and First Nations, a moral ‘burden of proof’ becomes established. “Those who would claim we should act for different ends must present very strong reasons for doing so.”6
As the people of British Columbia seek a new direction in the relations between native and non-native, we offer the following ethical benchmarks.
- The historic questions of First Nations surrounding land should be resolved, if at all possible, through negotiation.Two items we wish to emphasize – resolution and negotiation.
Questions involving the land and First Nations have lingered since contact. The process followed in the rest of Canada, inequitable as it proved to be to First Nations, was not followed, by and large, west of the Rocky Mountains. The sharing of the land was determined neither by conquest or treaty. Decisions were made unilaterally by the federal and provincial governments with the resulting well-known myriad of social problems.
These unresolved questions fester, like an ulcerous lesion upon the face of the province. Maintenance of the status quo simply means, by and large, maintaining the same structure and conditions which have so devastated native communities. First Nations can no longer be expected to continue to bear the bulk of the social, personal and communal costs of non-settlement.
Resolution must be achieved, if at all possible, through negotiation. During the last 140 years, the relationship between native and non-native citizens of this province has grown to resemble an over-run garden full of weeds and vines. The reclaiming, shaping, design and caretaking of this garden must be undertaken jointly.
In certain quarters, native and non-native, pressure grows for a non-negotiated approach to these questions.
Resolution through negotiation must be seen to yield results within a reasonable time frame. The patience and endurance shown by the Nisga’a elders can no longer be assumed for the younger generations. It proves both naive and dangerous for the federal and provincial governments and non-native sectors of the population to assume the status quo will continue indefinitely. Each month that goes by without some demonstrable progress lends weight to those other voices and forces which, for their own reasons, would urge tactics that would be disruptive to individuals, the community and industry. This should not be viewed as blackmail but as a simple, sober accounting of the cost of over 140 years of non-resolution, dark interest on an unattended debt.
The matter of a reasonable time frame impacts directly upon the treaty process. We applaud the maintenance of the current treaty negotiation teams by the provincial government even as our concern grows about the ability of the current process to carry the freight imposed upon it. In a way, we recognize that the success of the process has led to problems.
The current backlog of First Nations now in the process raises serious questions about the ability of the process to deliver resolution through negotiation. Many now view the process with some cynicism, feeling it creates movement but no progress. Those First Nations entering the process get “in line” but while the line moves rapidly to the end of the framework agreement stage, then slows to less than a snail’s pace almost immediately.
Resources allocated to this by the federal and provincial government are currently inadequate. We refer not only to treaty negotiation teams per se but, recognizing the complex nature of negotiations, are also mindful of the many related ministries whose input proves indispensible to the formulation of a successful treaty. When those dealing with the specifics of forestry, the environment or other matters are not available, negotiations stumble. More resources must be found if the process is not to stagger to a halt through the weight of the backlog in the system.
We recommend the provincial and federal governments allocate sufficient resources to the Treaty Process to expedite negotiations.
The matter of interim protection measures relates to this commitment to resolve through negotiation. The residents of native villages traditionally served by the United Church of Canada tell often of their frustration at seeing convoys of logging trucks continue to roll while the negotiation process continues. The more cynical believe the negotiations are simply a tactic to allow continued exploitation of resources upon traditional lands.
The provincial government’s current position of refusing to negotiate interim protection measures until land selections have been identified in the later AIP stage causes us great concern. With the majority of First Nations waiting to begin substantive negotiation and, with limited federal and provincial resources assigned to these negotiations, it is feasible that many First Nations will wait 5 to 10 years before they are eligible for these interim protection measures. Clearly this constitutes an unfair burden to place upon First Nations. One does not have to become cynical to realize that the process must be amended to make provision for some kind of interim protection measures that safeguard lands and resources.
We recommend provision be made for the establishment of interim protection measures much earlier in the negotiating process.
We also recognize the concern that too broad an application of interim protection measures may also bind development of lands and resources in advance of a treaty. Therefore, we urge the provincial government, business and First Nations to aggressively pursue mutually acceptable economic opportunities for both First Nations and non-native businesses.
We applaud the initiative of many companies who are seizing the initiative and working out their own joimt business agreements.
We include the phrase “negotiation if at all possible” in the formulation of this ethical benchmark out of the awareness that the Nisga’a were only able to prompt both governments to come to the table at the same time because of the implication of court actions. Our commitment to resolution through negotiation remains firm but we recognize instances where negotiations do not seem to be proceeding in good faith and that, at such times, other means may bear consideration. The burden of proof, however, remains with demonstrating why negotiations should be abandoned in favour of another action.
First Nations have the most to lose when negotiations breakdown or if negotiations cease for whatever reason. To be blunt, this realization has been used as a weapon by governments to inhibit other forms of protest in situations where First Nations have legitimate complaint. “Don’t cause trouble or we will break off negotiations. If you don’t want to negotiate, other First Nations will gladly step forward and take your place in the negotiating line” – seems to be the implicit message.
We recommend the Treaty Commission be given authority to require mediation among the parties where one or more desire to break off negotiations or where the Commission feels negotiations are not proceeding in good faith. All three parties should be required to submit to the mediation process with the undunderstanding that the Treaty Commission will issue a report concerning the mediation initiative.
- The negotiation of a treaty should foster development of relationships between the native and non-native communities based upon mutual respect, tolerance and understanding.The goal of negotiation is not just that salmon quotas will be determined and accepted or that tree farm licences will be allocated or even that there will be certainty. The goal must be a resolution that fosters mutual respect, tolerance and understanding between the native and non-native people of the province.
As we observe the treaty-making process, we grow concerned that the only mandated interaction between native and non-native people occurs at the negotiating table which, by its nature, remains an adversarial rather than a cooperative body.
We believe that the Treaty Commission process should be amended to include a process that would provide opportunities for community dialogue between natives and non-natives. Regional Advisory Committees have generally become forums for non-natives to identify their vested interests to the federal and provincial government negotiating teams. They do not address the issue of promoting understanding through dialogue between First Nations and the rest of the community.
A report prepared for the Kettering Foundation, Meaningful Chaos: How People Form Relationships with Public Concerns, highlights the role of mediating institution as key places where people come together to talk and act on public concerns.
What often makes these places important to citizens is the opportunity to interact with people with whom they may not otherwise come in contact; the spark they provide to expand people’s outlook on a public concern – to make connections between concerns; and the avenues they open for people to discover new opportunities for participating in public life.7
The role of mediating institution remains one churches can play along with community colleges, schools and other community organizations. The British Columbia Conference of the United Church of Canada continues to be willing to work directly in this manner but this proves no substitute for a mandated process.
We recommend the Treaty Process be amended to include a process to provide opportunities for community dialogue between natives and non-natives.
Public education continues to be vital to the promotion of respect and understanding. Much remains to be done in order for the general populace to understand the moral and historical context in which treaty negotiations occur. At best, many citizens remain indifferent; at worst, some are hostile.
In theory, tripartite educational endeavours might address this concern. In practice, this proves unworkable due to the many filters through which each party must pass any product. The Treaty Commission continues to have this dimension in its mandate.
We recommend the Treaty Commission assume an accountable mandate for public education concerning the larger context in which specific negotiations occur.
We applaud, among others, the following terms of the AIP which contribute to the promotion of mutual respect, tolerance and understanding:
the phasing in over time of Nisga’a jurisdiction over Nisga’a citizens on Nisga’a land the access of non-Nisga’a people to Nisga’a land, subject to reasonable regulation the joint management committee which will make recommendation to the federal and provincial government concerning Nisga’a fisheries the phasing in of Nisga’a participation in the development of large fish-processing facilities the commitment to dispute resolution through cooperation, consultation and mediation.
- A treaty should allow for legitimate grounds for treating people differentlyAlong with freedom, equality has traditionally been held by many Christians as a measure of justice. The greater the equality of treatment of each party in a relationship the more just the relationship.
The challenge comes in the definition of equality.
Does it mean:
equality before the legal system (and whose legal system?) equality of process equality of opportunity equality of need equality as sameness?
While we uphold the general principle that a negotiated resolution would promote equality for all British Columbians, we reject the narrow definition that would imply that each British Columbian would therefore receive exactly the same thing.
Our society is full of instances where people, appropriately, are not treated exactly in the same manner – health care and education, to name but two of the more obvious.
The more important question becomes: When is it morally legitimate to treat people differently? Our society accepts that, for example, in the context of a medical emergency room, need is a morally legitimate criteria for different treatment. The key question to be put to the AIP, in light of this benchmark, is not so much whether there is “one law for all British Columbians” – to which we answer “yes” and “no” – but: In what areas does cultural, social or economic difference require or make it morally legitimate to treat people differently? We recognize that the answering of this question can be tricky and remains one of the purposes of the negotiation process but, without extensive discussion, we would agree that differences in certain cultural practices, health, education and language instruction would seem appropriate. We applaud the work of the Nisga’a and the federal and provincial governments for the significant work already done in many of these areas.
This benchmark which allows for different treatment also applies to the model of land settlement.
Whatever one may feel about the Nisga’a AIP, there can be no dispute that it will, rightly or wrongly, become the point of reference for other negotiations. In the Nisga’a AIP, various lands were selected as being core lands; these lands were a small percentage of the traditional claim.
The land selection model used in the Nisga’a AIP may well be the best for Nisga’a people and other Canadians; however, there should be no assumption that this same model of land governance needs to be applied in other treaty negotiations. Other models may be more appropriate in other situations. Some contexts might require greater recognition of the hereditary system than can be preserved with the amount of land designated as core in the Nisga’a settlement. Perhaps there could be different levels of recognition rights for First Nations even in those situations where ownership by a First Nation does not prove possible? Other alternatives are surely conceivable. The option that other models of land settlement may be better utilized in other agreements needs to remain viable.
We recommend the federal and provincial governments establish criteria by which a model, other than the land selection model, would be deemed acceptable.
We are puzzled by the province’s bottom line that area of land settlement should reflect the percentage of First Nations’ people in the general population. This is not a very sophisticated measure of justice and, if applied, would clearly mean that the delay of justice has worked to the disadvantage of First Nations. For, if land questions had been settled a century ago, soon after contact, the population percentage would have been significantly different than the current figure.
- A treaty should allow for the independent development of First Nations cultures and customs.Continuation of the ‘equality does not always mean sameness’ theme leads to the ethical benchmark that allows for the independent development of First Nations cultures and customs. In the church we have witnessed, as we have been part of, the devastating impact of assimilation policies which equate equality with sameness and which systematically sought to destroy First Nations’ cultures and customs.
The rationale for why an agreement should allow for the independent development of First Nations cultures and customs could be long. We want only to briefly note two points.
First we note that the traditional notion of most First Nations that they are “a people” stands in great tension with the fundamental assumptions of an individualistic society. Our society simply does not view groups primarily in an organic fashion. We uphold the right of those whose identity rests upon a concept of “peoplehood” to continue to be a people.
Secondly, we would note that this recognition proves different than an affirmation of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism, as generally understood in our society, refers to the co-existence of many different folk each with their own distinct customs and worldviews. First Nations differ significantly from other “cultural” groups in our society because they alone did not choose to come to this land. They were already here and so had no choice about entering into a configuration with other groups.
Behind our concern for the allowance of the development of First Nations cultures and customs lies the fundamental desire to support the right of “a people” to continue to be “a people.”
We applaud those aspects of the AIP which support :
protection of key cultural sites and the renaming of key geographical features with Nisga’a names return of Nisga’a cultural artifacts provision for non-commercial harvest of halibut, oolichan and shellfish and wildlife for cultural purposes endorsement of Nisga’a government and constitution and the Nisga’a ability to “make laws governing such things as culture and language, employment” and other matters such as “solemnization of marriage.”
- A treaty should provide clear agreement and understanding concerning the common standards to which all parties would hold themselves accountable.Even while endorsing the right and need of the Nisga’a and other First Nations for provisions that allow for the independent development of cultures and customs, we also want to uphold the need for common standards to which all parties will hold themselves accountable.
Every community requires fundamental agreements to safeguard the entire community. We think of such standards as apply to safety and the environment among others.
With respect to the AIP we look for standards concerning such matters as Nisga’a self-government, the environment, the protection of fish stocks and the wildlife. We affirm the common standards articulated in the AIP:
The Nisga’a will continue to be an aboriginal people under the Constitution Act, 1982. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms will apply to Nisga’a government and its institutions. The Criminal Code of Canada and other laws of general application will still apply. The Forests Practices Code will apply to forestry activity on Nisga’a land. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the province will retain “overall responsibility for conservation and management of the fisheries and fish habitat.” The allocation of steelhead will depend upon the ability of the stocks to support any Nisga’a harvest. The subjection of Nisga’a citizens who hunt outside the Nisga’a management area to provincial laws. The harvest of migratory birds will be according to international convention and the laws of general application Environmental protection standards for activity within the Nisga’a management area must meet or exceed those set by the federal or provincial governments. Policing standards must meet provincial standards; and Over time, the tax exemption status will disappear for the Nisga’a people.
These, to us, indicate a real attempt by the Nisga’a people and the federal and provincial government to take seriously the need for the identification of common standards to which all are accountable.
- A just settlement should be such that the development of a sustainable economy proves feasible.Economic considerations figure heavily in the well-being of individuals and communities. The negative face of this has been apparent in too many First Nations’ communities for the last century as they have staggered under massive levels of unemployment, unfair access to credit and miles of red tape engendered by the Indian Act.
Such AIP provisions as the ability of the Nisga’a: to control surface and subsurface resources on Nisga’a lands; to collect stumpage fees after a transitional period; to continue in the fishery and to acquire forest resources outside Nisga’a land should make the development of a sustainable economy feasible.
- The cost of a settlement should be born equally by all segments of the province’s population.
The cost of treaty settlements will extend beyond cash and even beyond land if the above ethical benchmarks provide any guide. Fear of the loss of employment forms one cost we have heard repeatedly from our non-native members. While each side steadfastly and, we believe, honestly endeavours to minimize such an impact, the reality seems to be that certain people will be displaced. Family plans will be shattered and children will be dislocated from their current routines. The sincere and honest question which we put:: Can anything be done to decrease the impact of such cost?
The underlying belief which prompts the question is the conviction that the cost of a settlement should be born equally by all segments of the province’s population. In a very real way, the entire province has benefited from removal of resources due to a lack of settlement to date. But, even more fundamentally, the sharing of joint responsibilities is part of what makes a province.
The larger understanding of being a province is that of a group of people and communities who live within a covenantal relationship with one another. The covenant is not only to share the benefits of the good times but also to distribute the responsibilities of being a covenanted people. The Nisga’a AIP will yield benefits not only to the Nisga’a but also to the entire populace. The responsibilities should also be shared among the entire population.
So, to return to the question: Can anything be done to decrease the impact of such cost upon particular segments of the population such as independent contractors, individuals and families?
We have no ready answer only the conviction that some process must be established to enable the province and the affected groups to work toward some mutually acceptable solution. We are under no illusion that such a change as occasioned by the Nisga’a treaty will be without personal cost and, regrettably, some will experience that cost much more immediately and directly. For the sake of the larger community well-being this proves necessary but compassion and justice urge every effort to distribute the burden with as much approximation of justice as possible.
We recommend a process be established to enable governments and the economically affected groups to work toward some mutually acceptable solution to mitigate local economic and social costs.
In the past, particular sectors of the economy have benefited greatly by the absence of an agreement, justice may allow that such segments also carry some responsibility for distributing the cost.
Pertaining to the matter of costs we also note the fact that First Nations are enabled to participate in the negotiation process only because they borrow money against a final settlement. In effect, every time a First Nation conducts research, consultation and holds meetings they do so on borrowed money. The threat that the funding source could be cut off proves real and is one way in which there is inequality in the negotiating relationships. Negotiations do not take place on a level playing field.
As well, there always remains concern as to the extent of borrowing and the worry that by the time of settlement significant parts of any cash settlement may be seriously eroded by debt repayment.
So, as noted above, when negotiations are threatened or delayed there are real costs – to First Nations directly in the cost of borrowed money and to the larger community because of opportunities lost due to uncertain conditions.
- The treaty process should involve as broad a base of public participation as possible.In a democratic setting, there is not really much debate about this benchmark. Controversy arises around the meaning of “participation” and the mechanism by which such participation is ensured.
We simply note that “participation” usually carries with it the assumption of “informed participation.” As noted above, so-called mediating institutions have a distinct role to play in this process as well as other means and forum of public discussion.
The possibility of using referendums as the mechanism to ensure broadly based public participation deserves comment.
Traditionally a key factor in the effectiveness of referendums is size of population. Smaller groupings, like some of the Nisga’a villages, can devote literally many days to detailed exploration and questioning of the AIP. After such an extensive process, they are then equipped to “vote.” A similar process is not possible with an entity the size of the entire province of British Columbia. So, to take a simple vote from every citizen does not turn out to be the same process as that followed by the Nisga’a people.
Fundamentally, however, the basic question turns around matters of trust.
In theory, the provincial government is supposed to represent and be accountable to the population. In effect, what many of those calling for a referendum are saying is that they do not trust the system of representative government currently in place in BC to be an effective mechanism for representation and accountability.
By and large negotiations of the scope of the Nisga’a AIP require a subtle balancing of many different factors so that, in the end, no party may feel they have achieved all of their objectives but the total package is one that meets the goals of each.
In British Columbia, a mechanism is in place which most find acceptable on most other issues. The interesting and disturbing question for us: Why is this accepted means of representation and accountability acceptable on most other issues but not on the matter of land questions involving First Nations? To put a bald, if not provocative, example: Would a trade agreement with China – or even an agreement between the government and the Government Employees Union – be ratified by a referendum?
Our assumption remains that not all of the populace will agree with the outcome of any negotiations involving First Nations and the provincial and federal governments. Uniform agreement is not an achievable goal in our context. The present representative system of government might not be the optimum solution but currently it remains the best alternative.
We recommend the mechanism used to gauge public endorsation and/or to ratify the Nisga’a AIP should not be a referendum.
Once First Nations becomes involved in the treaty negotiation process the amount of effort required by the process often drains the community of the ability to do anything much other than keep in the process. We note simply that the amount of stake First Nations have in a favourable treaty combined with the emotional, spiritual and financial cost associated with negotiation means that the provincial and federal governments and First Nations do not approach the table as “a level playing field.” First Nations bear a disproportionate burden during negotiations.
The inequities apparent in even a cursory power analysis mean that particular caution needs to be exercised both in the establishment and monitoring of the negotiation process. Since governments are active players in the negotiations, many of the usual checks and balances do not apply.
Resolution of historic injustices between First Nations and governments of British Columbia and Canada remain one of the most urgent and important issues before us. We all have a role to play as we move toward stronger communities.
The British Columbia Conference of the United Church of Canada has a long history of concern and involvement and we stand ready to do our part. We hope these ethical benchmarks and recommendations will assist the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs in its deliberations and contribute to the public dialogue about these important issues.
Referred to in this Presentation
- The historic questions of First Nations surrounding land should be resolved, if at all possible, through negotiation.
- The negotiation of a treaty should foster development of relationships between the native and non-native communities based upon mutual respect, tolerance and understanding.
- A treaty should allow for legitimate grounds for treating people differently.
- A treaty should allow for the independent development of First Nations cultures and customs.
- A treaty should provide clear agreement and understanding concerning the common standards to which all parties would hold themselves accountable.
- A just settlement should be such that the development of a sustainable economy proves feasible.
- The cost of a settlement should be born equally by all segments of the province’s population.
- The treaty process should involve as broad a base of public participation as possible.
Made in this Presentation
We recommend the provincial and federal governments allocate sufficient resources to the Treaty Process to expedite negotiations.
We recommend that provision be made for the establishment of interim measure much earlier in the negotiating process.
We recommend that the Treaty Commission be given authority to require mediation among the parties where one or more desire to break off negotiations or where the Commission feels negotiations are not proceeding in good faith. All three parties should be required to submit to the mediation process with the understanding that the Treaty Commission will issue a report concerning the mediation initiative.
We recommend that the Treaty Process be amended to include a process to provide opportunities for community dialogue between natives and non-natives.
We recommend that the Treaty Commission assume an accountable mandate for public education concerning the larger context in which specific negotiations occur.
We recommend that the federal and provincial governments establish criteria by which a model, other than the land selection model, would be deemed acceptable.
We recommend that a process be established to enable governments and the economically affected groups to work toward some mutually acceptable solution to mitigate local economic and social costs.
We recommend that the mechanism used to gauge public endorsation and/or to ratify the Nisga’a AIP should not be a referendum.
A Brief Historical Overview of United Church Involvement in Aboriginal Issues in BC
In Canada, nineteenth century Methodists, working on the Northwest Coast of British Columbia, soon discovered the importance of aboriginal title to the First Nations. Authorities accused missionaries of disloyalty and trouble making because they supported aboriginal rights to the land. In 1887, when Nisga’a and Tsmshian chiefs met with federal and provincial officials, the missionaries were barred from the meeting even though the chiefs had requested their presence as interpreters.9
The 1888 Meeting of the Methodist Conference passed a special resolution strongly disapproving of government policy towards First Nations of the north-west coast. A committee prepared a memorial to explain the situation to the rest of the Methodist Church in Canada. When Rev. Ebenezer Robson, President of the Conference and brother of John Robson who would soon be Premier of British Columbia, dropped the section on land claims, the northern missionaries protested his high handed action. “We cannot submit to see truth suppressed, evil tolerated, the poor and weak oppressed at the bidding of anyone. The root of the question is undoubtedly the land questions, and mission work is doomed unless the land question is investigated and the policy placed on a righteous basis.”10 The 1889 Conference reaffirmed this position and pledged “in every legitimate way to help the Indians of the Province of British Columbia to secure their just rights and the redress of their grievances.” A century later, the United Church has inherited this pledge and commitment from our Methodist ancestors.
Between 1927 and 1951 the Indian Act prohibited fund raising in support of First Nations Land Claims. In spite of this fundamental denial of basic political rights, many First Nations, particularly the Nisga’a, continued to assert their claims. These claims, however, did not receive much attention from either the general public or from the federal and provincial levels of government. A significant 1958 study, The Indians of British Columbia: A Study of Contemporary Social Adjustment, could state calmly, “We do not wish to revive an interest in claims which, for all practical purposes, might be considered as finally settled.”11 In lieu of any claims settlement, Parliament used to vote an annual grant of $100,000, known as “The B.C. Special,” for the Indian Bands of British Columbia.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s aboriginal claims began to re-emerge as a significant issue both in British Columbia and in other parts of Canada. Proposals for massive hydro developments in northern Quebec and Manitoba and for the Mackenzie Valley pipeline threatened the traditional ways of aboriginal peoples in these areas. In 1967 the Nisga’a brought their claim of aboriginal title before the Supreme Court of British Columbia and subsequently to the British Columbia Court of Appeals and finally to the Supreme Court of Canada. Churches began to get involved in support groups. In response to a request from Prince Rupert Presbytery, the United Church granted $1000 towards the Nisga’a court action. The Anglican Church provided $10,000 from the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund in 1971 and a further $15,000 in 1974.12
On some levels the churches were becoming committed to support for aboriginal claims before the momentous 1973 Supreme Court decision on the Nisga’a (Calder) case. In the Calder case one of the seven judges rejected the case on the archaic technicality that the Nisga’a had failed to obtain Crown consent before suing it; the other six judges agreed on the existence of aboriginal rights in Canadian law but divided three against three on the question of whether or not aboriginal title had been extinguished in British Columbia. Although the case was therefore decided against the Nisga’a, the split decision on the merits of their claim pushed the federal government to reconsider its opposition to aboriginal claims. Prime Minister Trudeau remarked, “Perhaps you have more legal rights than we thought you had.”13 In August, 1973 the Trudeau government announced a policy for recognizing and settling aboriginal claims. The Nisga’a have been involved in negotiations ever since and the present Agreement in Principle is the result of this long, frustrating and slow process.
In this context Canadian churches gave support both denominationally and ecumenically. In 1975 Catholic, Anglican and United churches formed Project North, now known as The Aboriginal Rights Coalition. In the next few years this coalition provided needed logistical help as aboriginal peoples struggled to organize and develop their own expertise. Project North also mobilized public opinion favouring aboriginal rights among church people in southern Canada.
The 1977 General Council of the United Church called for a fair settlement of land claims; it also acknowledged our need to learn from native people about the spiritual relation between people and land and it stressed the immorality of abusing the land. The 1986 General Council apologized to native peoples for the church’s share in the wrongdoing of the past; it affirmed “support of the aboriginal peoples in their efforts to obtain justice through the recognition of aboriginal title, aboriginal rights and treaty rights and through a just settlement of claims, and that these rights be entrenched in the Constitution.”14
In 1989 British Columbia Conference of The United Church of Canada established a Land Claims Campaign with two emphases: 1. To help individuals and congregations become better educated on aboriginal rights; and 2. To raise a million dollars to assist aboriginal people in their pursuit of claims settlements. This second goal was reached in 1994. At a time when the United Church is experiencing a financial crisis, forcing it to cut staff and programs, this Land Claims Fund represents a major commitment.
This brief sketch of church involvement is meant to emphasize our conviction that aboriginal rights raise questions of fundamental justice which go deeper than the narrow letter of the law.
- See Appendix 1, a brief historical overview drawn from the submission of Vancouver South Presbytery, BC Conference of the United Church of Canada, to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, December 5, 1996.Like many other non-native people who first journeyed to the Colony of British Columbia, the survival and prosperity of the historic churches who form the United Church of Canada was due, in part, to the reception and assistance we received from many First Nations. Since before the beginning of the United Church of Canada, First Nations people have been not only neighbours but also brothers and sisters in the Christian faith.
When the existence of First Nations came to be viewed by many as an obstacle to progress and First Nations were being removed or shuffled from their traditional territories, some of our leaders wrote to church and government leaders of the time expressing concern and, at times, outrage. (See Appendix 1)
When it became apparent that the question of how the land was to be shared between native and non-native citizens was not being fairly resolved – first because of unjust laws prohibiting the organization of First Nations around “land claims” and then because of government reluctance to negotiate – the British Columbia Conference of the United Church of Canada advocated for a process that would lead to a just and peaceful resolution of basic questions concerning the land. We were pleased that in 1990 the provincial government recognized the need for a process to resolve these dragging questions and established the Treaty Process.
- As we have done in other forums, we advocate “certain particular beliefs and values and openly seek through the public forum to have these the prevailing ones informing and shaping judgments.” From the presentation of the Uranium Working Group, The B.C. Conference of the United Church of Canada, 1980 to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Uranium Mining and Milling in British Columbia, quoted in John R. Williams (ed), Canadian Churches and Social Justice (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 1984), p. 120
- Ethics and Mining, p. 138.
- The Christian ethicist James Gustafson was the first to refer to middle axioms as ‘anchors and compasses’ for Christian ethics. Another ethicist Dennis McCann (quoted in Ronald Preston, Church and Society in the Late Twentieth Century: The Economic and Political Task, p. 147) comments:Anchors and compasses, of course, are required for successful navigation. Compasses help those at sea to get their bearings and anchors help to minimize drift in troubled waters. It would seem that no less than sailors in a ship socially active Christians need ‘anchors and compasses’.
- Terence R. Anderson, Walking the Way: Christian Ethics as a Guide (Toronto: United Church Publishing House, 1993), p. 85.
- Ibid., p. 88.
- Kettering Foundation, Meaningful Chaos: How People Form Relationships with Public Concerns (Dayton, Ohio: Kettering Foundation, 1993), p. 37.
- From the presentation of Vancouver South Presbytery, BC Conference, to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, December 5, 1996, written by Jim Manly.
- Paul Tennant, Aboriginal People and Politics: The Indian Land Question in British Columbia, 1849-1989 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1990), p. 56.
- Archives, BC Conference of the United Church. Emphasis added.
- H. B. Hawthorn, C.S. Belshaw & S.M. Jamieson, The Indians of British Columbia: A Study of Contemporary Social Adjustment, (Berkeley: The University of California Press, Berkeley, 1958), p. 49.
- Hugh and Karmel McCullum, This Land Is Not For Sale: Canada’s Original People and their Land, A Saga of Neglect, Exploitation and Conflict (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1975), p. 187.
- Chairman Murray Coolican, Living Treaties, Lasting Agreements: Report of the Task Force to Review Comprehensive Claims Policy (Ottawa: Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, 1985), p. 12. Trudeau’s statement is quoted by Flora MacDonald.
- United Church of Canada, Record of Proceedings, General Council (Toronto: United Church Publishing House, 1986).