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Negotiators have signed off on a new treaty agreement between the federal and provincial governments and the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation near Prince George, B.C.

Representatives put their initials on the Lheidli T’enneh Treaty in a ceremony Saturday – the final step before members of the community vote on the deal next month.

The agreement provides the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation with more than 43 square kilometres of land, a capital transfer of $37.1-million and ongoing funding for services such as health-care, education and social development.

“The agreement would allow us to have our own governance, our own lands. We would own the lands and control the lands,” Chief Dominic Frederick said in an interview.

The treaty updates an agreement reached in 2006, which the community voted against ratifying a year later. At the time, some members said they didn’t have enough information or knowledge about the deal and others said the timing wasn’t right.

The previous treaty offered a capital transfer of about $16-million. In a joint news release, the provincial and federal governments and the First Nation say the increase “reflects updated policies that support reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.”

The release said the new deal maintains the benefits of the 2006 agreement and adds wording that “allows the agreement to evolve along with certain provincial and federal policies related to reconciliation and treaty negotiations.”

After the 2006 agreement was voted down, there was a kind of “stalemate” between the First Nation and other levels of government, Frederick said.

The negotiation team was dismantled, and eventually, a new one was put in place. Frederick said the new team has spent several years speaking with community members and addressing their concerns about the previous deal.

He hopes the community ratifies the new treaty, but said he understands that people need to think about it because it’s a big decision.

Scott Fraser, B.C.’s minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, said in a statement that language in the new treaty shows the province is finding a new way forward in its relationships with First Nations.

“We are working together with partners on an approach to treaties and agreements with First Nations that is grounded in recognition and implementation of rights and title, and which supports prosperous, healthy and self-determining Indigenous communities,” he said.

Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, said in a statement that once the “historic” treaty is ratified, it will mark the start of a new relationship between Canada and the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, based on the recognition of rights, co-operation, respect and partnership.

“When First Nations have more say over their lands, their people and all of Canada benefit,” said Bennett.

The new treaty is a step towards reconciliation, Frederick said, but he noted that work needs to continue.

“You can’t reconcile 100 and some odd years of atrocities that was put on our Aboriginal people over a short period of time,” he said. “Reconciliation goes on and on.”

About 500 members of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation are eligible to vote on the treaty next month. If they ratify the agreement, it will be approved first by B.C.’s government, then the federal government.

The B.C. Treaty Commission said in its 2017 annual report that 65 First Nations across the province are participating in or have completed treaty negotiations.

The Tla’amin Nation near Powell River, B.C., was the last to ratify a treaty, and that agreement came into effect in April 2016.

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