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Initials put to treaty details

NEGOTIATORS for the federal and provincial governments and the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum have initialed land claims agreements in principle which, if approved, will form the basis for final treaties.

The initialing took place in Vancouver Jan. 22, setting the stage for both First Nations to eventually receive cash, land, resource control and self-governing powers.

Kitselas members are to vote on their agreement in principle Feb. 20 while a firm date for a Kitsumkalum vote has yet to be set.

A simple majority of 50 per cent plus one voter of those who to turn out to vote is required for approval for each agreement in principle.

Approval on the part of the provincial government and approval from the federal side come from within their respective cabinets.

Gerald Wesley, the chief negotiator for the Kitsumkalum and the Kitselas, said there were no substantive changes from details released last fall when a letter of understanding was signed.

The land, 45,406.3 hectares or 454 square miles for Kitsumkalum and 36,158.7 hectares or 362 square miles for Kitselas, comes from the provincial Crown and does not involve private land holdings.

Under treaty negotiations principles in B.C., the province is responsible for land and resource elements while the federal government provides the cash which works out to $44.2 million for Kitsumkalum and $34.7 million for Kitselas.

“But there will be an opportunity in the final treaty negotiations to make changes,” said Wesley.

Agreements in principle aren’t considered binding.

What is lacking in the initialed agreement in principle, just as was the case last fall when information was first released, are details of fishery and marine allotments for the Kitsumkalum and the Kitselas.

That stems from a federal government decision not to negotiate fishery components within treaties pending the release and consideration of the Cohen commission inquiry into the collapse of the Fraser River fishery.

The Cohen commission report was released the middle of last year but recommendations have yet to translate into revised fisheries management policies.

“Fish is still not there and that’s one of the components that must be addressed in the final treaty. It will be a major topic in our final negotiations,” said Wesley.

Final Kitselas and Kitsumkalum treaties are being regarded as not only a base for certainty for the respective First Nations but as a springboard for economic and social development in the region.

And while Wesley did say the emergence of the Idle No More movement has raised the need to address social and economic inequities, he is worried the agreements in principle votes could be affected by people who might view them as being inadequate.

“I’m very concerned there may be an adverse reaction as a result of the Idle No More aspect,” said Wesley.

“It would be extremely disappointing if that was the case.”

Treaties, said Wesley, are a vehicle that can be used to craft new relationships with governments and provide opportunities for advancement.

For more on the Kitsumkalum and Kitselas agreements in principle, see the story "Treaty details in brief" on this same website.

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