Former Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird introduces her child to former premier Gordon Campbell at signing ceremony for the Tsawwassen treaty in 2007. It is one of four treaties completed under the B.C. Treaty Commission.

Ottawa seeks new aboriginal claims system

Treaty talks would take another 85 years at current pace, and most of the historic disputes are in B.C.

Canada’s aboriginal land claims resolution system has turned into an employment program for some of those involved, with “a conspicuous lack of urgency in negotiations” and little common ground after 10 or more years at most treaty tables.

That’s one conclusion from federal advisor Doug Eyford, who spent six months consulting on the state of treaty-making across Canada since aboriginal title was protected in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The report focuses heavily on B.C., which has 54 active treaty tables and only four agreements in the 22 years of the federally-financed B.C. Treaty Commission. Parts of Quebec, Labrador, Ontario, the north and most of B.C. never completed early treaties that extinguished aboriginal title and made way for settlement and development in the rest of Canada.

“At the current pace, treaty-making may continue for the rest of this century,” Eyford wrote.

Eyford presented his report last week to Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. With a federal election set for this fall, Valcourt said the months to come will require more discussions with provinces and First Nations on Eyford’s recommendations for a “new direction” in settling historic disputes.

The report’s release comes a week after the B.C. government cancelled the appointment of former cabinet minister George Abbott to head the B.C. Treaty Commission. Premier Christy Clark said there isn’t enough to show for more than $600 million, most of it debt accumulated by B.C. First Nations. Clark questioned whether the B.C. Treaty Commission should continue, since more B.C. First Nations remain outside the talks than inside.

Scott Fraser, aboriginal relations critic for the B.C. NDP, accused Clark of acting unilaterally to disrupt the existing system.

The First Nations Summit, which represents B.C.’s participating aboriginal communities, issued a statement saying despite the “confusion” over Abbott’s appointment, the B.C. Treaty Commission “remains active and will continue into the future.”

Chief Maureen Chapman, B.C. spokesperson for the national Assembly of First Nations, said Eyford’s recommendations point to a new federal system, not tinkering with the status quo.

“After numerous court victories by our peoples and the failure of the current treaty-making process in B.C. to deliver significant results, Canada must move away from a policy of First Nations making claims to the Crown by fully embracing the need for real recognition followed by true reconciliation,” Chapman said.