Praise, protests greet Tsawwassen treaty
VICTORIA – Tsawwassen First Nation chief Kim Baird made a rare guest speech to the B.C. legislature Monday, telling MLAs that the cash and land settlement in the new treaty deal gives her people the tools they need to create a healthy, independent and viable community.
Baird was greeted with a standing ovation from a packed chamber, with all but two MLAs applauding B.C.’s first-ever urban treaty settlement. Bulkley Valley-Stikine B.C. Liberal MLA Dennis MacKay and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Mike Sather stood quietly, indicating the opposition that has already caused Sather to be suspended from the NDP caucus.
Theirs may be the only two votes opposing the enabling legislation for the treaty, the first to be reached after 14 years of talks with federal and provincial officials under the B.C. Treaty Commission.
Baird used her speech to remind legislators of the cost of European settlement to her people’s traditional way of life, based on fishing from Pitt Lake down the Fraser River and out to the Gulf Islands.
“Today we have a tiny postage stamp of a reserve, a small fraction of a percentage of our traditional territory fronting a dead body of water, trapped between two massive industrial operations,” she said. “The ferry causeway, with its millions of cars and trucks, dissects our reserve to the south. And Deltaport, with its 24/7 coal and container traffic, coats our houses with diesel particulate; trucks and trains keep us awake at night.”
About 200 members of other aboriginal groups gathered for a protest rally outside the legislature as Baird and the Tsawwassen delegation were being welcomed at a morning reception. A series of chiefs decried the lack of progress in the majority of treaty negotiations.
Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs president Stewart Phillip was cheered when he announced plans for a co-ordinated legal action to challenge the federal-provincial treaty process. Phillip said the Tsawwassen First Nation has traded true aboriginal title for a settlement because they are a small group hemmed in by urban development. The deal is expected to result in treaty settlement lands being used as part of an expansion of the Deltaport container terminal next to the Tsawwassen ferry dock.
“They’re basically taking the money and running,” Phillip said.
Premier Gordon Campbell said his government’s new relationship with aboriginal people is working even for those who reject the treaty process. Resource agreements and programs funded by B.C.’s $100 million New Relationship Trust can proceed without formal treaties.
Baird said the Tsawwassen agreement provides ways to deal with overlapping land and resource claims, such as fishing rights in around the Gulf Islands that are claimed by several other aboriginal groups. Tsawwassen’s resource rights are not exclusive, and the treaty contains a clause that states it does not reduce the rights of other groups, she said.