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How Campbell changed his view Add to ...

Three years ago, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations asked for a meeting with the new Premier of British Columbia, a man widely considered an adversary of the province's native people.

Phil Fontaine, sitting in Gordon Campbell's Vancouver cabinet office, swept aside the political rhetoric and issued a challenge: Let's work together to make things better for aboriginal communities.

That meeting, Mr. Campbell recalls, put him on a new path toward reconciliation, one that has produced the first B.C. treaty in 10 years, which will be introduced into the legislature on Monday.

"I'm sure [Mr. Fontaine]had read all the stuff about what my position was or was not, and he came into the meeting and said, 'I think we're probably trying to do the same thing. How do we work together and build a relationship that's trusting?' " Mr. Campbell said in an interview this week.

"He was the one who opened the door, who said we can do something that would be pretty significant for first nations across the country, certainly in British Columbia, and I felt that was a very strong and powerful message."

It was the spring of 2005 before Mr. Campbell overcame the suspicions of B.C.'s aboriginal leadership and arrived at an accord called A New Relationship. Under it, the Campbell government embraced aboriginal self-government, and reconciliation was a guiding principle.

Although a growing number of native leaders say that accord has failed to produce the social and economic benefits it promised along with treaties, the Premier will ask the legislature on Monday to throw open its doors to an aboriginal leader who decided to make it work.

At Mr. Campbell's invitation, Tsawwassen Chief Kim Baird will approach the gleaming brass bar of the House to speak in favour of a historic land claims settlement for her community.

But outside on the legislature steps, other native leaders will be demonstrating with a very different message.

"I think they are trying to buy us off with beads and trinkets until after the 2010 Olympics," Sto:Lo tribal Chief Doug Kelly said in an interview. "That's not going to work."

Mr. Kelly's comments are part of a groundswell of discontent voiced by prominent native leaders who have concluded that the Premier's commitment sparked by that private dialogue with Mr. Fontaine has wavered.

Grand Chief Ed John, head of the B.C. First Nations Summit, said the Premier's promises have not translated into action.

"The key to the New Relationship was the recognition of aboriginal rights and title," Mr. John said in an interview. "The concern you are hearing is that it is not being reflected on the ground."

The criticism comes as the Premier prepares to enjoy a significant breakthrough in B.C. treaty-making. Ms. Baird's speech to the legislature is the second time in history that a guest will speak at the bar in the B.C. Legislature. The treaty itself is only the second in modern B.C. history, and the first under a 14-year-old treaty process that desperately needed a success.

Native leaders, including Mr. John, have been invited to sit behind the Premier on the floor of the House to witness Monday's event.

Mr. Campbell says bringing the Tsawwassen treaty before the legislature for ratification is evidence that his New Relationship commitment is working - for those who want to make it work.

"We have set ourselves on a track for positive results," he said. "What we know is that it's not what the government will do that will make the biggest difference. What will make the biggest difference is if the first nations leadership decides to take up these opportunities and move forward."

But even former supporters of the Premier say they are disappointed with the results so far.

"In the beginning, there was great hope, based on the statements from the Premier, that we were going to make some significant progress through the New Relationship. However, that has not been the case," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, head of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, who promised to protest outside the legislature on Monday.

"There is tremendous frustration and anger welling up in our communities as a result of the lack of progress."

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