The Kitsumkalum and Kitselas can now formally advance into the final stages of their treaty negotiations with the federal and provincial governments thanks to agreements in principle signed today.
Both First Nations approved their agreements more than two years ago through referenda but senior government approval wasn’t made official until today’s signing.
The Kitsumkalum Agreement-in-Principle provides for approximately 45,406 hectares of land, north and west of Terrace, and $44.2 million (to be adjusted for inflation), once a final agreement is reached.
The Kitselas Agreement-in-Principle provides for 36,158 hectares of land east of Terrace, and $34.7 million (to be adjusted for inflation), once a final agreement is reached.
It may take several years yet of negotiations to reach a final agreement for both First Nations and members from each will again vote to approve of their content.
Kitsumkalum chief councillor Don Roberts and Kitselas chief councillor Joe Bevan signed for their governments while the province was represented by aboriginal relations and reconciliation minister John Rustad.
The federal government was to have been represented by Conservative Member of Parliament Mark Strahl from the Fraser Valley in his capacity as the parliamentary secretary to the federal aboriginal affairs minister but his trip here was cancelled because of Sunday’s election call.
Instead, the federal government was represented by a senior land claims official to formally recognize Canada’s signing of both agreements in principle.
“We’ve been waiting twenty some years, it’s a long time to wait,” said Joe Bevan. “I mean, having two people decide on the right course is tough enough, but getting three governments all wanting to position themselves, well that’s tough.”
The waiting time between the Kitselas vote in favour of the agreement in principle in 2013, and the recent federal signing off on the terms, was also drawn out.
“This is a huge step, we’ve been waiting two-and-a-half years for them to review the document,” said Bevan.
“It’s all up for negotiation. We can’t assume anything is a given,” he added of the next steps in negotiation.
Rustad said that the provincial government is trying to speed up the treaty process:
“There are a number of First Nations around the province who would like to complete their final agreements within a relatively short period of time, so as a province we are going to strive to do that,” said Rustad.
To honour the step forward, and to indicate Kitsumkalum’s desire to keep progressing, Don Roberts gave the province and Canada each a hand-painted paddle.
“It is to signify that we will paddle together,” said Roberts.