October 14, 2015 - 7:00 AM
VANCOUVER - Members of a group that oversees treaties in British Columbia say they're guiding more First Nations than ever through the process, but the provincial government must appoint a new leader to guide them forward.
The B.C. Treaty Commission released its annual report Tuesday, showing that 65 First Nations — 52 per cent of all First Nations in the province — have completed treaties or are moving toward that goal.
"This really highlights the success of the process in British Columbia," said acting chief commissioner Celeste Haldane of the commission that was established 22 years ago.
Four First Nations have signed preliminary agreements in the past fiscal year, including the Tsimshian First Nations, which includes the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum nations, the Wuikinuxv Nation and the Te'mexw Treaty Association.
Haldane said the commission has focused on several issues this year while working with an independent firm to determine the socio-economic impacts of treaties on First Nations.
The study has been ongoing for three years and involves interviews of First Nations, including some that have completed treaties, others that are in final negotiations and some that have not participated in the process.
"Some of the analysis is that clearly there are significant positive economic benefits when a nation is out from under the Indian Act and implementing their own governance moving forward," Haldane said.
The commission has also been working on how to resolve overlapping land claims and is looking at possibly creating an expert panel to help deal with disputes.
"First Nations are best poised to resolve these issues amongst themselves with the support and the dedication of the treaty commission," Haldane said.
But having a dedicated leader will be key to the group's future work, said commissioner Jerry Lampert.
"We're very troubled by the fact that we have not seen progress in appointing a chief commissioner," he said.
Former Liberal cabinet minister George Abbott was set to succeed then-chief commissioner Sophie Pierre on April 1, but Premier Christy Clark and her cabinet cancelled Abbott's appointment.
Clark said in March that she wanted the treaty process to go in a different direction.
"I don't understand B.C.'s rationale for not wanting to appoint a chief commissioner," Lampert said. Because the (treaty) process is going to continue."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015