"As the provincial government goes forward
with its referendum, it is important to remember why
British Columbia chose the path of negotiation
in the first place"
says Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault
Thank you. I appreciate this opportunity to address the "Speaking Truth to Power III" conference. The British Columbia Treaty Commission (BCTC) has put together an impressive agenda of speakers.
The BCTC has been a persuasive champion of the treaty process. Their recent report, "Looking Forward, Looking Back," is a further demonstration of this commitment.
I want to thank Miles Richardson and his staff for producing this honest assessment of the current state of negotiations in British Columbia. The treaty and the treaty process is like anything else - it must evolve or die. Though we may have our differences about how to get there, everyone at the table agrees it must not die - it must evolve. The report is a good place to start.
We've learned a lot in the last 10 years.
Negotiating a variety of framework agreements, comprehensive settlement offers and agreements-in-principle has taught us all a number of lessons. We've come a long way, but we can do better.
The idea we can do better doesn't just apply to treaties. The government of Canada is reviewing the way we do business at Indian Affairs on all fronts. The Throne Speech made the commitment, and anyone who has read the papers in the last year, can't deny that things are changing for the better.
The Prime Minister is committed to a fundamental re-thinking of how we can help to improve the quality of life of First Nations.
Boosting our investments in First Nations economic development was the first thing I did. From $25 million to $125 million in less than two years. That investment has generated over $400 million in economic activity - jobs, experience and investment in First Nations communities. Real change, and real difference in the quality of life.
We have tried new approaches to old problems.
For instance, we have spent the last 12 months asking First Nations people what they think before we introduce governance legislation this year. I am honoured to be working with people such as Vice-Chief Satsan on this project, and honoured to be working directly with First Nations people themselves.
When we complete this work, governance legislation should make it easier to negotiate self-government agreements across the country, and once again, BC First Nations are at the table, leading the way.
We are also opening the First Nations Land Management Act. This will provide the First Nations who participate with the authorities to make better use of land and resources. With this in place, I think we can move more easily to self-government agreements.
The goal is to ensure that all First Nations have the tools to move towards self-government at their own pace.
And as we all know, self-government is a critical component of treaty-making. Settling land claims and treaties can unlock more of this potential. Throughout Canada, many First Nations are making the most of the land and resources gained through land claim and treaty settlements. They are partnering with non-Aboriginal businesses and succeeding. And the benefits flow to both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike - in particular in the rural and remote areas just like my own home in Kenora - where many First Nations are located.
Since the beginning of the treaty process in British Columbia, the business community has been clear about its concerns. Businesses want and need stability - whether they are on-reserve or not, whether they are Aboriginal or not. They simply won't wade through the jurisdictional issues and the uncertainty surrounding the ownership of land, while bureaucrats and politicians consider their options. In a global economy, investment will simply move on to other places.
British Columbia has so many advantages: natural resources, a dynamic multi-cultural population, and a rich natural heritage. We can't allow them to lose because of uncertainty over Aboriginal land claims. It is unnecessary and costs First Nations and other British Columbians.
As the provincial government goes forward with its referendum, it is important to remember why British Columbia chose the path of negotiation in the first place.
Over the years, governments and leadership have changed on all sides of the table. New people bring new ideas and new perspectives - but the responsibilities remain the same: To work in good faith to build fair and workable treaties.
Treaties do not belong to one party. As one of the Chiefs near my home in Kenora likes to remind me, "This isn't just my treaty, this is your treaty too."
But I did not come here to discuss the referendum. I have made the federal position clear in the past.
We all made a clear commitment when we endorsed the recommendations of the BC Claims Task Force. And we followed up with a treaty process built on the knowledge and expectations we held at the time.
Today, eight years into the process, our commitment to the principles of the BC Claims Task Force is still there. But we must allow the process to evolve, as I said earlier. We must learn from our experience. On this, all three parties agree.
Looking back, I think it is fair to say that three patterns have emerged. First, several negotiations have reached advanced stages and the prospects for further progress look good.
Many tables face common issues. If we can bear down on these, we will see successful conclusions to these negotiations.
There has already been a positive trend led by the BCTC of exploring common issues encountered by various negotiating tables.
Although tough issues might still be on the table, we must focus on potential breakthroughs, not failure. We must focus on breakthroughs that build a sense of optimism in process.
A second group of negotiating tables are stalling because the sheer number and complexity of issues.
Again, we have to find ways of breaking these issues down so we don't stumble and lose momentum. We must concentrate on what we can do, not what we can't. Where it is practical, the Government of Canada supports the idea of incremental, but determined, steps. Steps that contribute to governance and economic development. Steps that make a more immediate impact on the ground and ensure continued momentum towards a treaty.
If there is an opportunity to test-drive some of the new ideas¯before the final agreement is constitutionally "locked in"¯it can only build confidence. When we can show tangible results, we all win.
These tailored and incremental approaches must be developed with input from all three parties. They must reflect our collective objectives and expectations of this process.
Incremental measures will help to strengthen the commitment to concluding treaties, not water it down.
It is worth noting that in BC's only concluded modern treaty, the Nisga'a Final Agreement, there were a number of "incremental" arrangements that contributed to the successful outcome.
Prior to concluding the treaty, a Nisga'a School District and a Health Board were established, a post-secondary institution was initiated, and there was Nisga'a participation in park management and in fisheries stock assessments.
Appropriate incremental measures can play a significant role in developing experience and better human resources capacity to productively engage in treaty negotiations. Such measures can also contribute to a greater understanding within First Nation communities of some of the potential benefits that a treaty can provide.
Innovative and practical incremental measures can be an effective tool in making sure the treaty process meets the circumstances of individual communities.
A third group of negotiating tables face a different set of challenges. Quite frankly, in these cases, the gap between governments and First Nations is too large to overcome at this time.
In this case, I have said across the country, there is no shame in taking a break.
Before I came to this job, I worked as part of a union. I've sat at the negotiating table myself and know how rewarding - and how frustrating - it can be. I also know that negotiating when you know there is no deal in sight is not very useful. It chews up resources, and good negotiators.
But the negotiating table is not the only place that progress towards a treaty can be achieved.
First Nations should have more options than this. They should not have to stay at the table, even when the prospect of success is remote. They should be able to step away, focus on other priorities, and pick up negotiations when they are ready.
Improvements in quality of life, education, economic development, and governance can all help to prepare the ground for successful negotiations in the future.
I recognize that there are impediments for taking a "time-out" from negotiations, once they have begun. These should be addressed.
First Nations in some cases may want to build aspects of self-government incrementally alongside other incremental agreements relating to the treaty process. We must be willing to accept these tailored approaches where they are useful.
As I said, these are three general trends, but I know that every negotiation is unique. Flexibility is the key. Ultimately, individual tables must determine, in consultation with the BCTC, how the tools we develop can best be applied to their situation. The Government of Canada is committed to this process and to improvement. We look forward to working with all parties as soon as possible to forge the way forward.
Already, senior officials from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the province, the First Nations Summit and the British Columbia Treaty Commission are examining options to make the process more results-based.
Defining the role of the BCTC in this changed environment will be a natural extension of this discussion.
None of us has a monopoly on the solutions. But I can assure you the Government of Canada is committed to exploring new tools with our partners that reflect the lessons we have learned. Change can be difficult. But if we do this right, we can build on the successes, and avoid the problems we've had in the past.
But the only way to do this is through honest and respectful discussions. Anything else, and the process will die.
A decade ago, there was a clear political, social and economic imperative for beginning treaty negotiations with First Nations.
In 1990, for instance, Price Waterhouse calculated the cost to British Columbia of not settling land claims to be $1 billion in lost investment and 1,500 jobs a year in the mining and forestry sectors alone.
These facts are just as relevant today. But beyond this, there is a simple reason to move forward: it is the right thing to do.
Treaty-making should bring people together to look at the values and interests we have in common. We need to emphasize capacity building wherever it is required¯in people, infrastructure, governance, economic opportunities, or treaties. This is the best way to re-energize and re-focus our treaty process in British Columbia.
We have shown that not only do we want change, we can change, and we have changed. But we will only change in partnership with all of our partners. In the end, the treaty process may be different from what it is today. But there will be a treaty process, and there will be modern treaties. And most importantly, they will truly be our treaties.
Thank you for your time.