COLUMN: Premier needs to come clean about plans for aboriginal treaty-making

MLA Mungall: "Failing to work with First Nations partners in this decision is disrespectful,unacceptable and just plain wrong."

Recently, we learned that Lower Kootenay Band south of Creston will be taking over ownership of the popular destination Ainsworth Hot Springs. After fifty-three years in the same family, Norm and Joyce Mackie handed the torch back to indigenous people of the region. The Ktunaxa Nation’s relationship with the hot springs spans hundreds of years, so it comes as wonderful news that Yaqan Nukiy, the Ktunaxa name of the Lower Kootenay Band community, will now be operating this Kootenay gem.

It is an understatement to say that economic development and social justice are imperative for Aboriginal people in Canada. The centuries of injustice and poverty resulting from colonialism need to end, and we all have a part in making that happen.

Presently, the government of BC has not fulfilled its part well. You may have read how Premier Christy Clark pulled out of the existing treaty process at the eleventh hour without consulting anyone. She did this by reneging on the approval of George Abbot as the new Chief Treaty Commissioner to replace outgoing Sophie Pierre.

Abbott, a former cabinet minister for Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, had the expertise and the full support of the other treaty partners. He had been working with Sophie Pierre for six months on a smooth transition process. To his surprise, just two weeks before he was to take over, he got a call that he was out.

Abbott was joined in his shock by First Nations who had been spending millions on the treaty process for over twenty years. When Sophie Pierre asked why this decisions was so abruptly made, the Liberals offered this: it was a confidential cabinet decision.

After a week of questions, Christy Clark is now saying that she is ending the slow and difficult treaty process in favour of developing a new process and that this was her plan along. She insists that her sudden choice was never about Abbott having challenged her for the BC Liberal Party leadership.

Whatever her reason for this decision, she has no right to make it unilaterally. While all agree that the current process is problematic, government acting like it knows best is the same old colonial attitude that has caused centuries of injustice. Sophie Pierre points out that “you don’t make positive change by unilaterally blocking the Chief Commissioner appointment. This does not create the right atmosphere for reconciliation.” Failing to work with First Nations partners in this decision is disrespectful in the extreme, unacceptable and just plain wrong.

This current breach of trust not only has negative impacts for First Nations, but it will have consequences for all economic development in BC. The Supreme Court of Canada’s June decision on Tsilhqot’in land title cemented Aboriginal people’s constitutional right to meaningful consultation and input into activities on their land base. This being the case, treaties are important to ensure social justice and economic wellbeing for generations of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. Now, no one seems to know what’s going to happen to get us there, except maybe Christy Clark and her recently revealed secret committee of Liberal cabinet ministers.

We can do better than this in British Columbia. Regardless of which party is governing, the government must be fully committed to working in partnership with First Nations. Mutual respect and collaboration must be the foundation of relationships and reconciliation. What we have recently seen from the Liberal government is not in that spirit, so let your part in reconciliation be a call to Christy Clark to rebuild trust. She needs to come clean and work from a place of honesty. I hope she is up to the task.

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