B.C. cabinet ministers and 500 aboriginal leaders emerged from two days of meetings in Vancouver Thursday with a pledge to work on divisive resource development issues and hold a province-wide forum on aboriginal children in government care.
Premier Christy Clark also announced the establishment of a $2 million fund for scholarships for aboriginal students pursuing post-graduate degrees, and a new set of awards for aboriginal youth athletic achievement.
Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg was appointed parliamentary secretary in charge of developing the sports awards.
A framework document agreed to at the meeting commits the province and First Nations Leadership Council members to keep working on a reconciliation agreement that would settle historic land claims across the province. Clark said the agreement would have to include provisions for the unique aspects of more than 200 First Nations.
Grand Chief Ed John of the First Nations Summit said the first two years of these province-wide meetings have gotten off to a rocky start, but expressed the hope that “by year 10 we’ll have paved the road.”
In his closing speech, John reflected on his own time at a residential school, and described a new generation of young people that is emerging from the social upheaval of that policy.
“I couldn’t even see my sister on the other side of the building, even though she was in the same residential school as I was,” John said. “That disconnect became the norm for us.”
Chief Shane Gottfriedson, regional representative of the Assembly of First Nations, echoed John’s call for a resolution to land issues that started in 1859 when colonial Governor James Douglas proclaimed that all lands and resources in B.C. belong to Crown.
Chief Robert Chamberlin, vice president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said last year’s landmark land title decision in favour of the Tsilhqot’in Nation means action is required to address territorial claims.
It is the Canadian law that First Nations want to see implemented,” he said.