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Agreement reached to share Columbia River Treaty revenues with First Nations

The Ktunaxa, Secwépemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations will each receive 5% of the revenue generated
The Hugh Keenleyside Dam near Castlegar was one of three built as part of the Columbia River Treaty. It has had a huge impact on the Columbia River valley all the way to Revelstoke. Photo: Contributed

Three Indigenous nations have signed interim agreements that will share revenue generated from the Columbia River Treaty.

The Ktunaxa, Secwépemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations will each receive five per cent of the revenue generated from the sale of Canada’s share of downstream power benefits under the terms of the treaty, colloquially known as the “Canadian Entitlement.”

The new deal, announced by the province Thursday, includes revenue sharing over four years.

“This interim agreement is significant for us,” said Kathryn Teneese, chair of Ktunaxa Nation Council.

“It’s an acknowledgment of impacts to Ktunaxa rights and title, and is one step on the path of reconciliation. Ktunaxa Nation Council, on behalf of our four member First Nations, will continue our broader collaborative work on Columbia River Treaty renewal with the other partners in this agreement. Ktunaxa perspectives are vital to this treaty process, and we value being at the table with the other Indigenous Nations, along with British Columbia and Canada.”

READ: Latest Columbia River Treaty modernization talks conclude

The interim revenue sharing agreement is a historic step for government-to-government relationships, said ki law na Chief Clarence Louie, Okanagan Nation Alliance tribal chair.

“For far too long, we have been excluded from decisions that directly impact the Syilx Nation. These previous decisions lacked any form of consent and often left us with only devastating impacts. With this announcement, the provincial government has demonstrated a level of integrity to finally do the right thing.”

The agreements, in partnership with the Ktunaxa and Secwépemc, represent a beginning a long journey of righting the historical wrongs of the past injustices with the Crown on decision-making, revenue sharing, ecosystems and Indigenous cultural values, Louie added.

Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir, tribal chief of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council, said the agreement demonstrates a shared commitment resulting from the ongoing Columbia River Treaty negotiations.

“These agreements represent the first time that the three Indigenous Nations within British Columbia are receiving benefits from the Columbia River Treaty dams,” Casimir said. “The dams have caused devastation to our lands and resources, and continue to impact our title and rights. We share a commitment to reconciliation while upholding the foundation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“We look forward to our continued engagement, shared decision-making and co-operation as we move forward together in a way that we can all be proud of.”

The Canadian Entitlement is Canada’s half-share of the downstream power benefits, which are owned by the Province of British Columbia and are worth approximately $120 million annually, depending on power market prices.

The Columbia River Treaty itself was ratified in 1964 between Canada and the United States as a water-sharing agreement to provide flood-control management and power generation in the Columbia Basin.

However, it has been criticized for a complete lack of consultation with Columbia Basin Indigenous nations, as the Ktunaxa, Secwepemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations and their members have been severely affected by the construction of treaty dams and reservoirs, changes to river flows, ecosystem and cultural losses, and the related impacts to their economies.

Negotiations with the Ktunaxa, Secwepemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations for a long-term agreement to address environmental, cultural and economic impacts caused by the operations of the Columbia River Treaty continue, according to the province.

“When the Columbia River Treaty was developed, governments didn’t consult or co-operate with First Nations or any Columbia Basin residents — the very people whose lives, livelihoods and cultures would be affected for decades,” said Katrine Conroy, Minister of Finance and Minister Responsible for the Columbia River Treaty. “Since 2018, Indigenous Nations with territory in the Columbia Basin have worked closely with Canada and B.C. to negotiate a modernized treaty with the U.S.; today, they are at last sharing in the benefits the treaty brings.”

Canada and the United States have engaged in talks to modernize the terms of the Columbia River Treaty since 2018. The Ktunaxa, Secwépemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations have been included in the Canadian delegation as observers and are leading efforts to restore ecosystem function and reintroduce salmon to the B.C. portion of the Columbia Basin.

“The announcement today reflects our government’s action toward building relationships with First Nations that recognize, respect and support their right to self-determination,” said Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

“These agreements ensure nations benefit from Columbia River Treaty revenues and support a new way of seeking First Nations’ free, prior and informed consent on a modernized Columbia River Treaty.”

READ: Biden, Trudeau pledge action on Columbia River Treaty, water quality concerns

The Columbia River Treaty was specifically singled out by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden in a joint statement following a bilateral meeting earlier this year, as both pledged to intensify their efforts towards a modernized treaty regime.

Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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