The Road to Treaty Negotiations in British Columbia
A Chronology of Key Events
FNS Chronology last updated September, 2002
Project North BC, First Nations Summit
September 9: The Summit and other aboriginal groups sign an agreement with the provincial government to allow more aboriginal children to grow up and flourish in their own culture. Children of aboriginal ancestry make up only eight per cent of B.C.’s child population but comprise 40 per cent of about 10,000 children in the government’s care. “We are here today because we’ve put the children first,” explained Grand Chief Ed John.
August 28: The B.C. Court of Appeal upheld a lower court decision restoring about four hectares (10 acres) of Kitsilano land to the Squamish Indian Band, 116 years after it was expropriated for use by the Canadian Pacific Railway. The land, appraised at about $20 million, and part of the ancestral home of the Squamish people, is under the shadow of the Burrard Street Bridge and adjacent to the Molson Brewery. Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob said Wednesday the unanimous decision by five justices of the B.C. Court of Appeal is “marvellous.”
August 19: The B.C. Court of Appeal reaffirms a ruling that says Weyerhaeuser must consult with the Haida Nation about how it harvests trees on the Queen Charlotte Islands. The 2-1 ruling deals with issues raised by another decision on the same case in February, 2002 when the court ruled there was a duty on both government and third parties to “consult and accommodate aboriginal interests in the land even before aboriginal title is proven. “The issue is an important one,” wrote Justice John Lambert in the court’s then unanimous opinion. “If the Crown can ignore or override aboriginal title or rights until such time title or rights are confirmed by treaty or a court, . . . the Crown can force every claimant into court before conceding any effective recognition be given to the claimed aboriginal rights.”
June: Aboriginal leaders come together to sign the Tsawwassen Accord, calling for the development of aboriginal authorities to lead the way in reducing the number of aboriginal children in care.
April 4: Launching an anti-referendum ad campaign in newspapers across BC, the First Nations Summit urges all British Columbians to join in a province-wide boycott of the vote. Many eminent people — Thomas Berger and pollster Angus Reid among others — write opinion pieces explaining why they refuse to vote in the referendum. John Dixon of the BC Civil Liberties Association writes, “the referendum is an exercise in political cynicism and deserves to be shunned.”
April 1: BC Liberals mail out ballots to all eligible British Columbians for the referendum on treaty negotiations. This, despite repeated warnings from the First Nations Summit that the costly exercise would further delay treaty making and subject First Nations to the “whim of the majority.”
March 8: The Tsawwassen First Nation launches a lawsuit to shut down the Roberts Bank Superport and the BC Ferries terminal, seeking an injunction to curtail the port and ferry operations and get the causeways fixed or removed. Tsawwassen says negotiations about the impact of the causeways on reserve lands and foreshore areas with BC Ferries and the Vancouver Port Authority have gone nowhere.
March 6: Haida Nation initiates a lawsuit against the provincial and federal governments, saying it not only has aboriginal title to all the lands contained within Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlottes), but also to the resources in and under the sea, including oil and gas reserves believed to be under Hecate Strait. The writ seeks a declaration that the Haida are the aboriginal owners of the entire remote archipelago off the north coast of BC and that all of the activities within those lands that are incompatible with the Haida should cease. The Haida also want an accounting of all profits, taxes, stumpage dues, royalties and other benefits the provincial and federal governments have collected over the years.
March 2: BC Liberals appoint Jack Weisgerber, a former native affairs minister and leader of the BC Reform party as its representative on the BC Treaty Commission. Weisgerber was appointed BC’s first minister of native affairs in 1988 in the Social Credit government of Bill Vander Zalm. In that role, he helped get the modern treaty negotiation process started. As leader of the BC Reform party in the 1990s, Weisgerber was sharply critical of the Nisga’a treaty. In a 1995 speech to the First Nations Summit, Weisgerber said the negotiations should involve primarily money, not land. He also said aboriginal people should emerge with the same rights, responsibilities, government services and taxation levels as all other British Columbians.
November: Sliammmon members voted to reject agreement-in-principle.
March: Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council initialled an agreement in principle. One month later, six of twelve member nations rejected the deal.
February: Draft Snuneymuxw (Nanaimo) agreement in principle released. But local governments, in particular the City of Nanaimo and the Gabriola residents, strongly opposed private property issue.
February: Sliammon Indian Band initialled an agreement in principle.
September 14: New legislative building, Wilpsi’ayuukhl Nisga’a, opens as formal seat of Nisga’a self-government.
April 13: The Nisga’a treaty is formally ratified and given Royal Assent by the Canadian Senate. The first treaty in modern BC history was finalized after contentious debates in the House of Commons and earlier in the BC Legislature. The treaty, 23 years in the making, was negotiated outside the BC Treaty Commission process.
March: Task Group Members Edward John and Joe Mathias challenge comments made by Lieutenant-Governor Garde Gardom at the swearing-in ceremony of the new Provincial Cabinet. The Lt.-Gov made reference to the discovery by English explorers to an empty land of BC.
The sudden passing of Chief Joe Mathias was mourned by aboriginal people throughout BC and Canada. Chief Mathias was a guiding light whose dedication to the pursuit of social justice and economic well-being of First Nations people inspired the lives of many. The powerful spirit and legacy of Joe will live on in the hopes and dreams of all of us.
February: A historic joint statement on Aboriginal title is made by the First Nations Summit, the Assembly of First Nations, and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. Although the groups have historically divided over participation in the treaty process, they unite to categorically reject Canada’s Comprehensive Claims Policy as it is predicated on the denial of aboriginal rights and title.
January: First Nations express concern over lack of input into new protected areas legislation to be introduced in the spring 2000 legislative session. Chiefs call on the Province to develop a joint process to ensure aboriginal rights including harvesting rights, self-government and the designation of interim protected areas are honoured in First Nations traditional territories.
December 13: after a fierce debate, Nisga’a Treaty Legislation passes a second reading in the House of Commons by a vote of 217-48. It was then referred to the Senate.
As the frustration level with the current BC treaty process has reached a critical stage, the First Nations Summit Chiefs in Assembly support the establishment of an in-house War Council (independent of the Task Group) to facilitate open discussion and strategy development to advance alternative resolution process’ in BC.
November: The Federal Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs holds Nisga’a hearings in Vancouver. Task Group Members are critical of the decision to deny the Summit an opportunity to make a public presentation to the Committee on behalf of First Nations in the treaty process. Summit supports Bill C-9 which will give effect to the Nisga’a Final Agreement, but maintains that it should not be used as a template for future treaties.
In the first meeting of its kind since 1865, Task Group Members and BC aboriginal leaders meet with Canada’s Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson. Aboriginal leaders believe she is in a unique position to help lead the national process of reconciliation between government and aboriginal people in Canada.
Task Group Members meet with Canadian Human Rights Chief Commissioner Michelle Falardeau-Ramsey to discuss the current review of Canadian Human Rights Act and the lack of progress being made in the BC treaty process.
October 21: Bill C-9, an act to enable the Nisga’a Final Agreement is introduced in the House of Commons for debate.
October: British Columbia and Canada table land and cash offers with In-SHUCK-ch N’Quat’qua as well as Ditidaht/Pacheedaht. Both treaty tables condemn the governments for publicizing the offers prior to being tabled with the respective First Nations.
September: Westbank First Nation initiates direct action by harvesting trees in their traditional territory. The actions of the Westbank are an expression of the frustration caused by the governments lack of will to negotiate interim measures agreements. Summit leaders pass a resolution to fully support the Westbank and all First Nations, in the exercise of their aboriginal and title rights in BC.
September 29: the Government of BC announces the concept of Treaty Related Measures are being finalized in concert with the federal government.
Governments tout the proposed concept as a means of revitalizing the BC treaty negotiations process. First Nations await an explanation of how the concept is to work.
June: Summit Chiefs pass resolution to support the efforts of the Assembly of First Nations’ Delgamuukw Implementation Process. Its sole purpose is to directly address, with the Government of Canada, the reform of the Federal Comprehensive Claims Policy.
The BC Treaty Commission releases its Annual Report and makes significant observations in the areas of the need for increases to treaty negotiation support funding stating:
…without more funding, more First Nation treaty offices and research efforts will falter. Even those First Nations nearing completion of agreements in principle, or otherwise making negotiation progress, will find it difficult to sustain the pace of negotiations.
The BCTC also acknowledged First Nations concerns with the accelerated pace of development within traditional territories and recognized the need for improved interim measures.
Task Group Member Grand Chief Edward John, AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine and other delegates meet with United Nations Secretary Kofi Annan in New York City. This is a first ever meeting between a UN Secretary-General and aboriginal leaders from Canada. First Nations call on the human rights organization to use its influence to take a firm stand on indigenous peoples’ right to self-government and self-determination.
May: Summit leaders applaud forestry company MacMillan Bloedel for their announcement that they are: prepared to give up some of its forest tenure in BC for treaty settlements. First Nations are encouraged that the corporate community has stepped forward in support of treaties and alluded to a recognition that the transfer of Crown lands to First Nations can produce public benefits.
April 22: the British Columbia Legislature ratifies the Nisga’a Treaty by a vote of 39 to 32.
April 16: The Sechelt Agreement in Principal is signed by the Governments of Canada, British Columbia and the Sechelt Indian Band marking the First BC First Nations negotiating under the BC Treaty Commission process to reach stage 5 of the BC treaty negotiations process.
March: The Summit passes a resolution mandating the First Nations Summit Task Group to challenge the Minister of Indian Affairs and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs on their respective governments lack of compliance with the recommendations of the 1991 Report of the BC Claims Task Force.
January: The First Nations Summit passes a resolution accepting the Tripartite Review of the BC Treaty Process Report of the Working Group and directs the First Nations Summit Task Group to establish meetings at the ministerial level to address issues raised in the Report.
December 11: First Nations recognise the one-year anniversary of the historic Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Delgamuukw case. At a press conference, The First Nations Summit Task Group calls on Canada and BC to begin implementing the principles contained within the Delgamuukw decision.
December: after a first stalled attempt, the Post-Delgamuukw review of the BC treaty negotiation process resumes.
November: The Nisga’a Nation ratifies the Nisga’a Final Agreement. Many dignitaries and First Nations leaders travel to Victoria to March with the Nisga’a as their final agreement is introduced for debate in the provincial legislature.
November: In continuing to pressure government on the issue of compensation the First Nations Summit passes a resolution stating,
“that the First Nations Summit reaffirm its position that Canada and BC abandon their present position and adopt new treaty mandates that explicitly recognize they will negotiate fair compensation for past and present infringements of aboriginal title and rights as a substantive issue in the BC treaty process.”
October: Premier Glen Clark addresses First Nations leaders gathered for the October First Nations Summit meeting. Clark stated that the Nisga’a Final Agreement would not be used as a template for other treaties being negotiated. Clark also said that he feels tripartite negotiations between First Nations, Canada and BC are the most efficient and just means to achieving a resolution to land claims in BC.
August 4: the Nisga’a Treaty is formally initialled in New Aiyansh, BC by representatives of Canada, BC and the Nisga’a Nation bringing to a conclusion some 20+ years of negotiations for the Nisga’a people.
July: Jane Stewart, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development announces the formation of a panel to recommend effective initiatives to enhance B.C. First Nations’ capacity to deal with land and resource issues which will be an important part of future treaties. The establishment of the capacity panel addresses a need that has been recognized by Canada, BC and the First Nations Summit.
May: The First Nations Summit passes a resolution stating, ‘the First Nations Summit must not agree to any agreement with Canada or BC that does not explicitly recognize that fair compensation for infringements of aboriginal title and rights will be among the substantive issues to be negotiated with First Nations in the BC treaty process’.
May: as a result of the tripartite review of the BC treaty negotiation process, BC, Canada and the First Nations Summit table a proposal with their respective leaderships, on the acceleration of lands and resources discussions in treaty negotiations. The review process is extended til June 30, 1998.
April: in light of the recent Supreme Court decision in Delgamuukw, the three principals to the BC treaty negotiations process, Canada, BC and the First Nations Summit enter into a review of the treaty process.
January: fourteen months after the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples tables its five volume report, the federal governments releases its response in a statement called Gathering Strength, in which Jane Stewart, Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, acknowledges abuses which took place in government/church run residential schools and announces a $350 million dollar community healing fund.
December 11: the Supreme Court of Canada renders its decision in Delgamuukw vs. The Queen. The court recognizes aboriginal title as “a right to the land itself”, which derives from First Nations original occupation and possession at the time the Crown asserted sovereignty. The court also stated that the federal and provincial governments may infringe upon Aboriginal title under conditions for justification but that fair compensation would be due at the time of such an infringement.
July 3: the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, an all party committee of the BC Legislature, releases its first report entitled Towards Reconciliation: Nisga’a Agreement in Principle and British Columbia Treaty Process.
June: in the Supreme Court of Canada the Delgamuukw case if heard. The First Nations Summit in its intervention, argues that Aboriginal title is a territorial interest in land separate from s. 35 Aboriginal rights, Aboriginal title remains unextinguished and a burden on Crown title, and that negotiations, like the treaty process is the most viable mechanism for dealing with Aboriginal rights and title.
June: the British Columbia Treaty Commission releases the BCTC Systems Overload Report which states that the governments of BC and Canada must increase the financial resources and capacity level of First Nations for the negotiation of treaties in BC.
November: the final Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in released with over 400 recommendations. The report points to the BC treaty process as being a good means to reconciling and addressing First Nations recommendations have relevance for treaty negotiations in BC.
September 1996: 47 First Nations currently participating in the BC treaty process. These 47 treaty tables represent more than 70% of First Nations people in BC.
August: the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, an all party committee of the BC Legislature, is appointed to study the impact of the Nisga’a AIP.
March 22: Nisga’a chiefs signed an historic Agreement in Principle (AIP) with Canada and British Columbia after 20 years of hard fought negotiations.
August: B.C. and First Nations Summit sign Agreement on Interim Measures and protocol on government-to government relations. Interim measures agreement to address issues related to the protection, management, use, allocation and development of lands, waters and resources within First Nations’ traditional territories.
June: B.C. and Canada sign Cost Sharing Memorandum of Understanding respecting cost for treaty negotiations and settlement of land claims.
April: B.C. Treaty Commissioners appointed in April, and process officially begins in December 1993. By June 1994, 41 First Nations choose to participate in the treaty negotiations process
B.C. Treaty Commission set up as impartial body to facilitate and manage treaty negotiations between the First Nations, Canada and B.C.
Provincial government accepts concept of aboriginal rights, including inherent right of self-government as official government policy.
B.C. Claims Task Group tables 19 recommendations, and calls for the establishment of a six-stage process for negotiating treaties with First Nations
Province of B.C. joins on-going Nisga’a land claims talks.
Canada, B.C. and First Nations establish B.C. Claims Task Force to examine how treaty negotiations can begin and what the negotiations should include.
B.C. Court of Appeal rules in Sparrow case that Aboriginal rights to fish for food continue to exist in non-treaty areas of the province. Decision upheld by Supreme Court of Canada in 1990.
B.C. Court of Appeal upholds interim injunction against logging on Meares Island (MacMillan Bloedel vs Mullin 1985) on the basis of unresolved Native claims to aboriginal title to the island.
B.C. Court of Appeal upholds another interim injunction on basis on Indian claims to riparian and fishing rights, by halting plans for twin-tracking in the Fraser Canyon and Thompson Valley (Pasco vs CNR).
Federal government and Inuit of the Mackenzie Delta sign a final agreement settling aboriginal title claims.
Chief Justice Dickson of the Supreme Court of Canada, in a ruling involving a trust action against DIAND (Guerin vs The Queen) cites the Calder (Nisga’a) case of 1973, stating that the Court had “recognized aboriginal title as a legal right derived from the Indians’ historical occupation and possession of their tribal lands.”
House of Commons Special Committee releases report on “Indian Self Government in Canada.”
Canada’s Constitution Act Section 35(1) recognizes aboriginal rights and provides a mechanism for determining and defining those rights.
Federal government restates its 1973 policy on comprehensive claims in a booklet titled “In All Fairness.”
Focus of First Nation political activity on patriation of Canadian Constitution and entrenchment of aboriginal rights.
Allan Williams, new Social Credit minister responsible for Native Affairs, meets with federal and Nisga’a representatives. B.C. agrees to “discussions” but maintains only “observer” status to negotiations between federal government and Nisga’a.
B.C. NDP human resources minister Norm Levi rejects provincial involvement in land claims, asserting that the issue is a federal responsibility. Asks federal government how B.C. will be compensated for any land transferred to Indians apart of settlement.
Supreme Court of Northwest Territories in Paulette case makes ruling on aboriginal rights affecting land. Decision overturned by Supreme Court of Canada on technical grounds.
Quebec Superior Court issues interim injunction halting James Bay Hydro-electric development on basis of unextinguished Indian rights to land. Injunction immediately lifted by Appeal Court, but dispute resolved by a negotiated settlement in 1975.
Federal government issues statement on land claims, indicating policy of negotiating settlements in non-treaty areas, including B.C.
Split decision by Supreme Court of Canada in Nisga’a case. Federal government introduces new comprehensive claims policy.
Federal government agrees to open negotiations to settle aboriginal title claims of Yukon First Nations.
After protests from First Nations, Prime Minister Trudeau withdraws white paper.
Federal “white paper” on Indian policy rejects aboriginal claims. Native opposition in B.C. to the white paper leads to formation of Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. Nisga’a case begins in Vancouver (Calder vs Attorney General of B.C.).
Supreme Court of Canada decides in Regina vs White and Bob that aboriginal hunting rights protected in Nanaimo treaty of 1854 against provincial laws. Federal Indian Affairs minister Arthur Laing indicates willingness to open negotiations to conclude treaty in B.C., asking for one group representing at least 75 percent of Indians in the province to conduct negotiations. First Nations attempt to form province-wide organization fail after Nisga’a Tribal Council decide to proceed on their own with court case.
Diefenbaker government introduces Indian Claims Commission bill. Never enacted.
B.C. First Nation leaders testify before Special Joint Committee of Senate and House of Commons on Indian Affairs. Committee report in 1961 recommends Indian Land Claims Commission to deal with B.C. claims.
1927 Indian Act amendment barring pursuit of land claims removed.
Joint Senate/House committee holds hearings on the Indian Act, recommends establishment of an Indian Claims Commission to deal with Indian treaty claims.
B.C. completes Indian reserve arrangements by Order in Council, and transfers most provincial land within Indian reserves to federal government.
Special Joint Committee of Senate and House of Commons struck to hear claims of the Allied Tribes of B.C. Committees said aboriginal rights and title not proven, and recommended that future land claims activity be barred. Parliament amends Indian Act to make it an offense to collect funds for the purpose of advancing claims.
R.B. Bennett, acting federal Justice minister, promises to resolve the B.C. land issue. Conservatives defeated in following election.
Allied Tribes of B.C. formed.
McKenna-McBride Commission recommends creation of reserve system in B.C. Under newly enacted federal and provincial statutes, governments were allowed to appoint commissioners to determine boundaries and make land adjustments. Some land “cut off” from B.C. reserves.
B.C. First Nations appear before commission and reject recommendations on grounds that aboriginal title not dealt with, that they were not part of the process, and over objections to the size and location of reserves.
B.C. Royal Commission on Indian Affairs (McKenna-McBride Commission) established to examine reserves in B.C.
In Prince Rupert, Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier promises to have aboriginal title adjudicated by Judicial Council of Privy Council.
B.C. First Nations make application to King Edward VII to have Privy Council determine aboriginal title. Request denied.
Treaty 8 signed by federal government covering Peace River area of northeastern B.C.
Joint federal/provincial commission set up to delineate Indian reserves.
Federal Indian Act is passed.
Governor General the Earl of Dufferin makes speech in Victoria citing the “error” of B.C. government in not recognizing Indian title.
“Papers Connected with the Indian Land Question” published in Victoria.
Dominion government disallows B.C. Crown Lands Act on basis that cessation of aboriginal title had not been obtained. After amendments relating to reserves, a second act allowed to come into force.
B.C. joins Canada. Terms of Union provide that federal government will assume the “debts and liabilities of B.C. existing at time of union.” Article 13 establishes federal responsibility for Indians and Indian lands. Provision made for completion of reserve system in B.C.
Colony established on mainland B.C
James Douglas, Governor of the colony of Vancouver Island, enters into 14 treaties (settlements involving reserve lands, compensation, etc.) on Vancouver Island, with various First Nations. After 1854, no further treaties signed as a result of dispute over who would bear the cost of such settlements (the colony, the Imperial government, or Hudson’s Bay Co.).
Colony established on Vancouver Island. Hudson Bay Company promotes colonization.
Royal Proclamation by George III of Britain with respect to Indians in North American colonies.