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British Columbia Tsilhqot’in nation signs deal with B.C. on path to securing resources: chief

Chief Roger Williams, vice-chair of the Tsilhqot’in National Government, at his childhood Nemiah Valley home on Oct. 21, 2014.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The Tsilhqot'in nation's five-year agreement with British Columbia outlining land and resource negotiations has set the stage for settling with the federal government, says the aboriginal group's tribal chairman.

Joe Alphonse said Friday's accord provides a framework for the Williams Lake-based nation to begin talks to improve the lives of its members in six communities.

The agreement covers eight areas including culture and language, children and families, healthy communities, justice, education and training, lands and resources, and economic development.

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Crown land within the Tsilhqot'in territory will be part of negotiations but private lands will not be involved.

Alphonse said a June 2014 Supreme Court of Canada decision granting the nation title to more than 1,750 square kilometres in the Nemiah Valley in B.C.'s Chilcotin region bolsters its fight for control of resources such as trees, gold, sockeye, and oil and gas.

The B.C. government has battled the aboriginal group in court for 25 years.

Premier Christy Clark became the first premier to visit the Nemiah Valley and signed deals with the Tsilhqot'in to negotiate development protocols.

She also invited the chiefs to the legislature, where the government exonerated six Tsilhqot'in chiefs who were hanged 150 years ago during the so-called Chilcotin War of 1864.

On Friday, Clark said the new accord holds the promise of a brighter future for the Tsilhqot'in people and the province.

"A key focus is going to be supporting new economic development for the Tsilhqot'in communities that also makes a positive contribution to the economies of the region and British Columbia," she said in a statement.

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Negotiations dealing with children and families are central for the Tsilhqot'in, Alphonse said, adding the nation will ultimately have authority on any deals that are negotiated.

He called on Tsilhqot'in members to get involved in shaping their future and getting their share of resources, especially after the country's top court recognized title to their land.

The nation is looking ahead to negotiations with the federal government on issues such as clean water as it takes control of its own destiny through land-use planning, Alphonse said.

"Now that we have this done with B.C. we will be pointing our arrows to Canada and we will be calling on (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau to come to our table, don't be shy," Alphonse said.

"We want to be a part of Canada, we want to be a part of British Columbia. We feel like we've been non-members, we've been held hostage on our Indian reserves and we see our resources being pulled out of our territories every day, generation after generation.

"We will continue to fight and we will continue to win in court or we can sit down and negotiate and be respectful to one another."

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