In its current form, the B.C. Treaty Commission would need a century to settle all the aboriginal land claims that are before it, Premier Christy Clark said Wednesday.
Taking questions for the first time about the sudden cancellation of former cabinet minister George Abbott’s appointment to lead the commission, Clark said she doesn’t know yet if the organization will continue. She emphasized that having only 50 out of 200 B.C. First Nations involved, and painfully slow progress with those, is not enough.
“There have been some results, but four treaties in 22 years for $600 million is not enough result,” Clark said. “We have to be able to move faster, and we have to find a way to include more First Nations in the the process.”
Word of Abbott’s rejection came out late last week, with surprise and disappointment from outgoing chief commissioner Sophie Pierre and commissioners representing the other two parties it represents, the federal government and B.C.’s First Nations Summit.
NDP leader John Horgan said the B.C. government’s sudden decision to leave a key position vacant is a violation of trust with aboriginal communities and Ottawa, which provides the cash for treaty settlements. B.C. provides Crown land once claimed territories are defined.
“I don’t disagree with those who suggest the treaty process can be revitalized,” Horgan said. “You don’t do it by blowing it up without talking to your partners.”
Pierre and others have expressed their own frustrations with the slow pace of progress, particularly from Ottawa. Treaty deals involving a share of salmon runs were put on hold for years while the federal government held an inquiry into the state of Fraser River sockeye runs.
Pierre has also called for forgiveness of the debt piled up by First Nations as negotiations drag on. Money to continue talks is borrowed against future cash settlements for resources extracted from aboriginal territories, leaving the parties with little left to invest in communities.