Cullen urges feds to stop stalling on treaty deals

Skeena-Bulkley valley NDP MP shocked to learn that Kitselas and Kitsumkalum have been waiting nearly two years for the government

This January 2013 photo shows then-provincial aboriginal affairs minister Ida Chong

Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen says he was “surprised and somewhat shocked” to learn Kitselas and Kitsumkalum have been waiting nearly two years for the government to sign off on the nations’ agreements in principle (AIP) so that they can move on to the next step in treaty negotiations.

Cullen, also his party’s finance critic, said the holdup is indicative of a government that is disconnected from the moves that need to happen on the ground in order for resource negotiations with First Nations to move forward.

“It was the government who agreed and negotiated this with the Kitselas (and Kitsumkalum) people … When you have a willing community and good faith and you make everybody wait for two years before you act, it shows that this isn’t a priority and that they just don’t get it,” said Cullen, of the federal Conservative government. “It’s a political problem but more importantly, it’s an economic problem.”

Kitselas and Kitsumkalum negotiators signed off on AIPs in January of 2013. By the spring, both AIPs were approved through votes by Kitselas and Kitsumkalum members, with the understanding B.C. and Canada would soon follow.

Last year, the province indicated it had approved the AIP and was ready for an official signing ceremony whenever the federal government was, but the federal government has not yet made an official commitment to a formal signing, with the federal aboriginal affairs ministry indicating late last year that the AIPs were still under review.

Cullen said that after learning of the situation from Kitselas, he moved to meet with the minister to find out what the holdup is but noted he’s yet to receive a satisfying answer.

“Usually once an agreement like this gets an approval, it’s relatively quick,” said Cullen Friday, Jan. 23. “Really I’m at a loss (as to why it hasn’t been finalized yet).”

He continued, “it’s like going to go buy a car and you negotiate the price and then the dealership goes away for two years – are you going to stick around waiting for them? If you’ve agreed on the price and everybody’s said so, what’s the problem? And that’s what’s confusing.”

There had been some chatter in the past that overlapping land claims issues between the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum nations and the Gitxsan could be contributing to the delay, but Cullen said he brought up the overlapping claims with the minister and that did not seem to be an issue on the federal government’s part.

“First Nations are just so not a priority for the government and they just can’t seem to make the intellectual link between First Nations and the resource economy. It’s the Ottawa bubble again,” he said.

Cullen said that this file is going to be on his agenda when he returns to Ottawa when Parliament resumes this week and he will be putting pressure on the government to finalize the AIPs. “Let’s get this done, or why not? What can we do to bring certainty,” he said.