NEARLY 300 Kitselas band members are being asked to vote today on a land claims agreement in principle which, if accepted, would form the basis of a treaty between the First Nation and the federal and provincial governments.
A small group of Kitselas members has been knocking on doors, phoning voters, organizing informal coffee parties and staging events designed to inform voters about the agreement in principle details.
“What we’ve been trying to do is really reach out by every means possible,” says Kitselas communications director Holly Spencer of the task taken on by the six-member communications team. “It might be regarded as selling the treaty, but a lot of it is just making sure you are informed on what you are voting on.”
There’s no question the team members are voting in favour of the agreement in principle but they’re equally careful to say their job is to put information to voters so they can make up their own minds.
A simple majority of 50 per cent plus one person is needed to approve of the agreement in principle.
“That’s why it’s so important to vote,” says team member Clarisa Spencer of the one vote that would give the agreement majority approval.
Questions raised by voters typically concern taxation and how much land is involved.
The land issue is critical to Kitselas acceptance of the agreement in question. Once included as part of a treaty, the land and resources will fully and legally belong to the Kitselas First Nation.
“We own it traditionally, but not legally. The treaty actually secures the land base. All of those lands will be protected,” says Clarisa Spencer.
She adds that the Kitselas First Nation stands to have the largest per capita land base under treaty in the province.
Based on the agreement in principle, the Kitselas First Nation is to receive 36,158.7 hectares as part of a final treaty. An additional 250 hectares of crown land is to be transferred immediately provided today’s vote passes.
“We also hear from the people that they are worried about losing their status. Actually, a treaty protects them,” says Clarisa Spencer.
Dealing with those questions and more makes ensuring that voters have the information they need so crucial, says Holly Spencer.
“When we set all this up five years ago, we made the decision to target people then who would now be 18 and able to vote at this time. We began communicating with them,” she said.
That’s another way of pointing out that the majority of Kitselas members are young, providing them with a unique opportunity to take part in a decision which will affect them for decades.
One of the communications team members, Brittany Seymour, is just 18, making today the first time she’s ever been eligible to cast a vote.
“We’re changing the way we look at ourselves,” said Holly Spencer. “We’re trying to instill in everybody that we’re all Kitselas and that it’s something to be proud of.”
The communications team hosted one last large community event Feb. 15 leading up to today’s vote.
It was a meal and a rally complete with a guest list that included BC Treaty Commission commissioner Dave Haggard and Harry Nyce Jr. from the Nass Valley.
The polls open at 9 a.m. today and close at 8 p.m. Aside from mail-in ballots, voting is taking place at the Kitselas community hall at the Queensway subdivision and at the main Kitselas administration building at the Gitaus subdivision.
It’s still a working day for the communications team because rides are being offered to the polls if needed by those Kitselas members who live in Terrace.
“And we’re going to be at the community hall,” said Holly Spencer of the Queensway location.
“It’s going to be really exciting.”