A West Coast native band is preparing to take the federal government to court for refusing to approve an agreement it reached a year ago with Ottawa and British Columbia.
In a strongly worded letter to Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan, Clint Williams, the chief of the Sliammon First Nation, accuses the government of “bad faith negotiations.”
Mr. Williams says in the letter he is concerned about reports that John Weston, the local Conservative MP, has sought to undermine the treaty process and may be responsible for the delay. And “we have heard that there may be pressures from other anti-treaty interests both inside and outside the Conservative caucus that are also seeking to block approval of our treaty,” he wrote.
Mr. Weston was not immediately available for comment.
But Michelle Yao, a spokeswoman for Mr. Duncan, said the Conservative government recognizes the importance of the treaty to the Sliammon First Nation and is working to address the situation as quickly as possible.
“There have been some delays in the federal review, but it is important to note that our government remains firmly committed to the treaty process,” Ms. Yao said.
The treaty with the Sliammon would clearly define the band’s ownership of land and resources. It includes self-government, fishing rights, hunting rights and cash.
Talks to reach a settlement carried on for more than 15 years, and the band borrowed more than $10-million to pay for their negotiation effort, before a final agreement was reached in June of 2010. The native negotiators believed the ratification process would be completed shortly thereafter.
But “it is now more than a year later and we still have not received any indication from Canada of when it will be prepared to initial our final agreement, nor have we received any explanation for the long delay,” Mr. Williams wrote in his letter to Mr. Duncan.
Previous treaties have taken just eight weeks to get the approval of all parties.
“We are contending with a community that is growing very cynical about [the] treaty; and we do not have an explanation that would provide any positive light on the matter,” Mr. Williams wrote. “Our decision to prepare for litigation has not been taken lightly, but we have exhausted all possible other opportunities for addressing our concerns.”
The band says it was forced to make some difficult compromises to reach the final agreement and not everyone within Sliammon First Nation was happy with the document as it was approved by their negotiators.
Mr. Williams is therefore calling upon Mr. Duncan “to do your part to reverse a very negative attitude that is growing in our community by helping to rebuild trust in the federal government.”