The British Columbia government and a Vancouver Island First Nation signed a business and land deal Friday that is being celebrated as a way to show progress in treaty negotiations that take years to reach final agreements.
Aboriginal relations and reconciliation minister Ida Chong said the government is giving the Tofino-area Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations $700,000 to facilitate a land transfer and economic project that would eventually become part of a final treaty.
She said the government's incremental treaty agreements, of which the Tla-o-qui-aht first signed up to participate in 2008, are designed to provide benefits to First Nations ahead of final treaty agreements.
"By signing this agreement, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations will see benefits earlier from participating in the treaty process," she said. "Why wait if we can do things earlier? Why wait when there is agreement to move forward faster? Why wait when we can see those jobs created in your communities much faster for your young people?"
B.C.'s two-decade-old treaty negotiation process has produced two treaties, while 38 other sets of negotiations continue.
There are more than 200 First Nations in B.C., and there are fewer than 20 treaties, with the majority of the treaties dating back to the mid-1800s when the province was still a British colony.
Ms. Chong said the incremental treaty agreement speeds up the transfer of 12 hectares of land next to an already existing Tofino tourist resort run by the Tla-o-qui-aht.
She said the government's First Nations Clean Energy Business Fund will provide the Tla-o-qui-aht with $500,000 to support a clean-energy hydropower project, which is 85-per-cent Tla-o-qui-aht owned.
The six megawatt Haa-ak-suuk Creek Hydropower project, located in traditional Tla-o-qui-aht territory in Clayoquot Sound's Kennedy River area, is the second green energy project undertaken by the First Nation.
Ms. Chong said the government is also giving the Tla-o-qui-aht $200,000 as part of an amended incremental treaty agreement that includes a total of about 63 hectares of land.
Tla-o-qui-aht chief councillor Moses Martin said the incremental treaty agreement provides an economic springboard for his people and allows the council leadership to show results from treaty talks that started in the early 1990s.
"These initiatives will benefit Tla-o-qui-aht and our neighbours for decades to come," said Mr. Martin during the signing ceremony at the B.C. Legislature.
"It will ensure Tla-o-qui-aht shares in the economic prosperity of Tofino and contributes to the green energy needs of the west coast of Vancouver Island."
Francis Frank, the Tla-o-qui-aht's chief treaty negotiator, said the incremental agreement method allows the band to show progress at the negotiating table rather than wait until a final deal.
"We didn't want a cookie-cutter approach when negotiating a modern-day treaty," he said. "It's different because you can not only announce agreements, but you can actually implement and act on them now, and not wait for years to come."
Mr. Frank said negotiations on a final treaty will still take time, but he suggested the Tla-o-qui-aht have their sights set on reaching an incremental agreement with the province on child welfare.
Opposition New Democrat Scott Fraser, who represents the Alberni-Pacific Rim riding and is a former Tofino mayor, said the incremental agreement benefits the entire region and signals progress in local treaty talks.
"As an Opposition member and a New Democrat, we are always supposed to be at the throat of government, but that's not the case in aboriginal relations and reconciliation," he said. "I've always supported incremental treaty and certainly I've supported the efforts of the Tla-o-qui-aht in this regard. They've done some innovative things."
Mr. Fraser said the independent power projects are small, efficient operations that are controlled by the Tla-o-qui-aht.
The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations have about 1,000 members who are located in two main communities, at Long Beach within Pacific Rim National Park south of Tofino and on Meares Island near Tofino.