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."
Mr. Phillip's remarks stand in deep contrast to the enthusiastic approval he offered the Premier less than a year ago.
"Premier Campbell has proven himself to be an exceptional, extraordinary, visionary leader in this province," Mr. Phillip told the Liberals' annual convention last November, where he earned a standing ovation.
It was a stunning endorsement, given the Premier's past rocky relationship with the province's aboriginal community.
Ten years ago, as leader of the opposition, Mr. Campbell mounted a fierce campaign against the Nisga'a treaty, calling it an "untried, impractical, bureaucratic nightmare" that would entrench "inequality based on race."
(The Tsawwassen treaty he will defend in debate next week is, in essence, no different than the Nisga'a deal.)
In his first term as Premier, Mr. Campbell pressed ahead with a province-wide referendum on land claims, an act widely denounced as racist and divisive.
So it came as a surprise when, after winning a second term in 2005, Mr. Campbell revealed that he had reached the New Relationship accord with aboriginal leaders.
Mr. Campbell said this week that his attacks on the Nisga'a treaty were wrong.
"A lot of the things I was concerned about in 1998, the observations about the Nisga'a treaty, were not correct. ... Frankly the Nisga'a treaty has done quite well for the Nisga'a people and I think it's done well for British Columbians."
The Premier championed the Kelowna accord, a national plan brought in by the federal Liberal government to spend $5.1-billion to improve the lives of Canada's aboriginal peoples.
He denounced the federal Conservative government when it failed to deliver on the accord.
And then, two years ago, he promised to deliver real, measurable change to native people's lives: "In 10 years, the education gap's closed. In 10 years, the health gap is closed. In 10 years, first nations people are part of the economic future of the province," he vowed.
The commitments won him a string of accolades. Mr. Fontaine called him one of the "most effective voices in the country" for aboriginal people. And in the poverty-stricken native community of Ahousaht, the Premier was given an aboriginal name, Chamatook, meaning one who is able to do the right thing and bring harmony.
But Chief Kelly of the Sto:Lo Nation believes the Premier has moved on to other issues.
"I think the Premier, Gordon Campbell, suffers from attention deficit disorder," he said. "He gets a new project in his mind and it might last to the end of the week or it might last to the end of the day. And that's what the New Relationship is suffering from. The Premier is good at making speeches but it doesn't move into action. So there's incredible frustration."
When he set out his targets two years ago, the Premier acknowledged there would be pressure to produce results: "I'm going to be upset in two years if there's not progress."
Last week, his government provided a list of initiatives that have flowed from the New Relationship, such as $51-million this year for aboriginal language and culture programs, and postsecondary, housing and health initiatives.
But are aboriginal children healthier, better educated, facing better economic circumstances?
"You are not going to have the entire world transformed in two years," Mr. Campbell said. "But any objective observer watching what is taking place in British Columbia will say we are acting in good faith with first nations, we are acting constructively to try and build the kind of foundation that is essential for us to succeed in closing the gaps."
For the 372 members of the Tsawwassen band, the $120-million treaty, if ratified by the federal and provincial governments, will provide some of the tools for a better life: Cash, a share of the salmon fishery and 724 hectares of territory - some of it prime agricultural lands expected to be converted for port-related development.
Chief Phillip said that may help in Tsawwassen, but most other native communities are being left behind.
"Situations in our communities are worsening," he said.
Today, he said, poverty still rules on many B.C. reserves despite a booming economy, disputed land and resources are still being taken away, and half the children in government care are aboriginal.
Judith Sayers, chief of the Hupacasath First Nation on Vancouver Island, sees opportunity in the New Relationship to bring change to her community. Her band has launched a variety of businesses, upgraded reserve housing, taken on joint management of parks using resources that have become available as a result of the Premier's changed way of thinking.
"In my community, the New Relationship is alive and well," she said. "I think there are huge opportunities now to move forward."
But she said there are problems that need the Premier's attention. "I do see a lot of things that need to be fixed, and need to be fixed fast. It's slow and onerous. The mandate has to go out to every single bureaucrat."
While the critics of the government emphasized they are not attacking the Tsawwassen treaty, there is an underlying current of disapproval. It's fine if that's what the Tsawwassen want, a number of chiefs remarked, but don't use that deal as a template for others.
Chief Baird, who acknowledged she finds some parts of the Tsawwassen treaty "offensive," shares some of their concerns. She said progress is slow and the Premier's political will hasn't filtered down to the bureaucratic level.
But she is disappointed that some chiefs will protest on the day she is in Victoria to open debate on her treaty.
"I had hoped that other people's issues wouldn't get clouded in with Tsawwassen's achievements. It's unfortunate timing but I won't take it personally," she said. "This day is bigger than that."
TREATY MAKING IN B.C. BY THE NUMBERS
Aboriginal treaty organizations participating in the B.C. treaty process. (Because some negotiate at a common table, there are 48 sets of negotiations.)
Organizations that are in preliminary stages of negotiations.
Groups in agreement-in-principle negotiations.
Groups in final negotiations: The In-SHUCK-ch Nation, Lheidli T'enneh Band, Sliammon Indian Band, Yekooche Nation and Yale First Nation have signed agreements in principle (AiPs) - the blueprint for a final treaty.
Groups have signed agreements that haven't been ratified: Tsawwassen First Nation and Maa-nulth First Nations.
The Nisga'a Lisims Government is the only tribal group to have achieved a modern-day treaty, although it was negotiated outside of the current B.C. treaty process.
The proportion of aboriginal people in B.C. who are represented at the table in the treaty process.
Source: B.C. Treaty Commission
DOES THE SYSTEM WORK?
While a number of prominent aboriginal leaders have recently criticized the B.C. government for failing to deliver concrete results with its two-year-old "New Relationship" accord, the province says the pact, signed with native leaders in May, 2005, has led to a number of improvements for aboriginal people:
Land and Resource Management Plans for the central and north coast are signed between the provincial government, aboriginal communities, environmental groups and other stakeholders. The joint management plans cover a huge swath of land, 6.4 million hectares, including the 103,000 hectare Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy.
The First Nations Health Plan is launched to close the health gap between aboriginal people and the rest of the B.C. population.
2006 - The Education Jurisdiction Agreement is signed between Canada, B.C. and the First Nations Education Steering Committee, recognizing the right of aboriginal communities to make decisions about the education of their children.
2007 A historic reconciliation settlement is signed between B.C., Ottawa, the Songhees First Nation and the Esquimalt First Nation, relating to a parcel of land in downtown Victoria including the 110-year-old B.C. Legislature.
2007 - The province will spend $51-million this year - about $1,000 per student - for aboriginal education. The fund is designed to support aboriginal language and culture programs.
2007 - Dr. Evan Adams is appointed as the province's first Aboriginal Physician Adviser, responsible for monitoring and reporting on the health of aboriginal people in B.C.
2007 - The Tsawwassen First Nation and the Huu-ah-aht First Nation vote to accept final agreements on treaties. The Tsawwassen agreement will be introduced for ratification in the B.C. Legislature on Monday. Four other members of the Maa-Nulth First Nations must vote before their joint treaty can be forwarded to the B.C. and federal governments for ratification.
Opposition Leader at the time, Gordon Campbell led the attacks against the Nisga'a treaty, the first modern land claims settlement in B.C. history.
July, 1998: "There is no question we are creating a whole new third order of government, we are creating new rights, we are entrenching inequality based on race."
December, 1998: "The net result will be a feast for lawyers and new costs for businesses that will be caught in the web of this untried, impractical, bureaucratic nightmare."
December, 1998: "The myth is that the treaty will break down the barriers that exist under the reserve system; but in reality, it will reinforce those existing barriers and erect new walls that will cleave our province into 50 or 60 'gated communities.' "
November, 1998: On the need for a province-wide referendum on treaty-making: "The people of British Columbia have seen that the Nisga'a have had a vote, and they think that the 99 per cent of the rest of B.C. should have a say."
February, 2003: Gordon Campbell's government, in its Speech from the Throne: "Your government deeply regrets the mistakes that were made by governments of every political stripe over the course of our province's history."
May, 2006: On Prime Minister Stephen Harper's refusal to back the Kelowna accord: "I characterized that agreement as Canada's 'moment of truth.' It was our time to do something that has eluded our nation for 138 years. It was our chance to end the disparities in health, education, housing and economic opportunity. All first ministers rose to that moment of truth alongside Canada's aboriginal leaders to undertake that challenge. ... Any unilateral reversal will invite consequences that only make us poorer as a nation."
July, 2006: At the Assembly of First Nations annual general meeting: "We must turn our back on the denial of the past. ... For 139 years, we have not recognized the true contribution of first nations and aboriginal people across our country. In British Columbia, we are determined not just to recognize, but to reconcile with first nations, to build a new relationship that opens up worlds of opportunities and recognizes the strength of the first nations of British Columbia in making us the place we are as a province."
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