Federal government giving $800M, province 109,385 acres of land to first nations in northeastern B.C.
CBC News: Five first nations in northeastern B.C., who signed a land treaty known as Treaty 8 in 1899, celebrated the culmination of decades of negotiations to have it honoured as it was agreed to more than 100 years ago.
“It’s been a long road for my people,” said an emotional Chief Judy Desjarlais of the Blueberry River First Nations at a press conference in Vancouver Saturday afternoon, which included representatives from four of the five nations, B.C. Premier David Eby, and both provincial and federal ministers of Indigenous relations.
For decades Treaty 8 nations have fought to have B.C. and Canada live up to agreements made under the treaty, such as providing 128 acres of land per person in each nation to allow for their traditional ways of life and benefit from economic opportunities. “Sadly that is not what happened,” said Saulteau First Nation Chief Councillor Justin Napoleon. “The government short-changed us when it came to surveying our reserve land.”
The province said that for more than 100 years, the First Nations were deprived of the use and benefit of thousands of acres of land owed to them under Treaty 8, while the resources on and under those lands were taken and developed by others.
‘It’s a good day’: Halfway River First Nation Chief reacts to historic land claim settlement
WATCH | First Nation chief honours those who did not live to see the settlement:
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On Saturday, Murray Rankin, B.C. minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, and Marc Miller, federal minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, announced that more than 25 years of negotiations to address some of those wrongs had concluded. As part of the agreements, B.C. will transfer Crown land back to the nations, while Canada will provide the First Nations compensation for losses and costs relating to the claims.
‘A bill that’s not been paid for 100 years’
B.C. will make available 109,385 acres (443 square kilometres) to the nations, but did not break down the land amounts by nation. The Government of Canada will give $800 million to honour Treaty 8 as it was intended when it was signed. “It’s not a windfall, it’s not free money,” said Miller in explaining the monetary value. “It’s a bill that’s not been paid for 100 years.”
Miller also did not disclose how the money would be distributed between nations, which have a cumulative population of around 3,300 people currently, according to the provincial government.
The province of Alberta has also agreed to provide an amount of land to the Doig River First Nation in that province in a related agreement.
All the parties at the event on Saturday spoke with passion and emotion at times about the long drawn-out process to realize the agreements, saying the building of trust and faith in negotiations is a model for how Canada and B.C. can meet their obligations to First Nations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
West Moberly’s George Desjarlais spoke about his initial work on the issue in the mid-1990s, and passing it on to new generations of councils from his nation. He said he wasn’t sure he would get to see settlement of Saturday’s treaty land entitlement claims in his lifetime. “As an elder of West Moberly First Nations I would just like to say, ‘thank you very much,'” he said.
All the elected officials and First Nation representatives who spoke at the event acknowledged the amount of work and effort it took to realize the agreement. They honoured people who had worked on the process, but did not live long enough to see its resolution.
“This is about righting an injustice, it’s also about restoring what was promised under the treaty,” said Rankin. “We got it done, but after much too long, but … we built relationships that will endure.”
The province said in a release that the settlements will create economic and business opportunities for the entire northeastern region of British Columbia.
Saturday’s announcement follows a revenue-sharing and consensus agreement with four of the Treaty 8 First Nations signed with B.C. in January, along with a natural resource development dealwith the Blueberry River First Nations.
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Chad Pawson, Chad Pawson is a CBC News reporter in Vancouver. You can contact him at email@example.com.