Frequently Asked Questions
- What are treaties?
Treaties are constitutionally protected,
government-to-government agreements creating long-term, mutually
binding commitments. Treaties negotiated through the BC treaty
process will identify, define and implement a range of rights
and obligations, including existing and future interests in
land, sea and resources, structures and authorities of governments,
regulatory processes, amending processes, dispute resolution,
financial compensation and fiscal relations.
Treaties signed with aboriginal people in Canada
between 1701 and 1923 are commonly referred to as historic
treaties; treaties negotiated today are known as modern treaties.
Modern treaties deal with areas of Canada where treaties were
never signed with aboriginal peoples, like most parts of British
- What is the BC treaty process?
The BC treaty process is a voluntary process of political negotiations among First Nations, Canada and BC. In treaty negotiations, a First Nation does not have to prove aboriginal rights and title-these rights are already recognized and protected by the Canadian Constitution.
The main goal of the treaty process is to provide certainty of jurisdiction over land and resources. Through a treaty, the rights and obligations of all parties are set out, thereby resolving conflicting land ownership between the Crown (BC) and aboriginal peoples.
The BC treaty process, open to all BC First Nations, currently has 60 First Nations at 49 sets of negotiations. BC treaty negotiations are arguably the most complex set of negotiations Canada has ever undertaken and the most complex treaty negotiations ever undertaken in the world.
- What is the role of Treaty Commission?
The Treaty Commission's primary role is to oversee the negotiation process and to ensure the parties are being effective and making progress in the negotiations. In carrying out this role, the Treaty Commission:
- Accepts First Nations into the treaty process and assesses when the parties are ready to start negotiations;
- Monitors compliance with the fundamental principles of treaty making as set out in the Treaty Commission's Mission Statement;
- Monitors and reports on the progress of negotiations and encourages timely negotiations by helping the parties to set meeting schedules and monitor deadlines;
- Chairs key meetings at tables and offers advice to the parties, where requested;
- Assists the parties in developing solutions and in resolving disputes;
- Identifies, engages with the Principals on and reports publicly on, opportunities for progress and key overarching obstacles to progress (e.g., mandates, resources, capacity, etc.);
- Supports pilot projects with the potential to promote progress in negotiations (e.g., community planning); and
- Develops and applies policies and procedures for the six-stage treaty process.
In addition to facilitation duties, the Treaty Commission is responsible for allocating negotiation support funding to First Nations and providing public information and education.
- What are aboriginal rights and treaty rights?
Aboriginal rights refer to practices, traditions and customs that distinguish the unique culture of each First Nation and were practised prior to European contact. Aboriginal title is an aboriginal property right to land.
Treaty rights refer to aboriginal rights that are set out in a treaty. For example, the Nisga'a Lisims government is an expression of the aboriginal right to self government. Aboriginal rights and treaty rights are protected under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
In the past, the Government of Canada required First Nations to "cede, release and surrender" their aboriginal rights in exchange for treaty rights. This is referred to as an "extinguishment model." One of the key challenges of the treaty process is to achieve certainty of land ownership and jurisdiction, while not extinguishing aboriginal title.
- Why, in this day and age, are treaties being negotiated in BC?
Before Canada was a country Britain recognized
that aboriginal people living here had title to land: the
Royal Proclamation of 1763 declared that only the British
Crown could acquire land from First Nations, and that was
typically done through treaties. In most parts of Canada,
the British Crown established treaties with First Nations
before Confederation. The new Dominion of Canada continued
this policy of making treaties before the west was opened
for settlement, but in BC, this process was never completed.
When BC joined Confederation in 1871, only
14 treaties on Vancouver Island had been signed, and aboriginal
title to the rest of the province was left unresolved. It
wasn't until 1970 that Canada's aboriginal peoples were able
to pursue aboriginal rights in the Supreme Court of Canada.
With the exception of Treaty 8 and negotiations with the Nisga'a Nation, most First
Nations had to wait until 1993 to pursue their aboriginal
rights through the BC treaty process.
Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, affirmed
that aboriginal title, and the rights that go along with it,
exist whether or not there is a treaty. Continued uncertainty
about how and where these rights apply discourages investment
and economic development in BC. Through the give and take
of negotiations, treaties will clearly define aboriginal rights
and title, thereby clarifying ownership of BC's land and resources.
- What's happening in the treaty process?
Treaties have been implemented for Tsawwassen First Nation and the five Maa-nulth First
Nations; the Yale First Nation treaty has been ratified by the First Nation and the governement of British Colubmbia and yet to be ratified by Parliament; Sliammon First Nation is preparing for a ratification vote; Lheidli T'enneh First Nation is planning a second ratification vote; In-SHUCK-ch Nation and Yekooche Nation are both close to completing treaties; K'omoks First Nation has ratified an agreement in principle and eight more tables are close; another 26 First Nations remain active in treaty negotiations, for a total of 42 of the 60 First Nations in the treaty process. The 60 First Nations represent 110 Indian Act bands and approximately 67% of the registered Indian population in the province.
- What is the difference between aboriginal title and Crown title?
In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada
ruled in the Delgamuukw case that aboriginal title is a right
to the land itselfnot just the right to hunt, fish and
gather. Crown title refers to the provincial or the federal
government's interest in land. Almost all land designated as Crown land in BC
is provincial Crown land.
Delgamuukw confirmed that aboriginal title was
never extinguished in BC and therefore still exists; it is
a burden on Crown title; and when dealing with Crown land
the government must consult with and may have to compensate
First Nations whose rights are affected.
Who can own the land?
Aboriginal title is a communal right; an individual cannot
hold aboriginal title.
What limits are there on land use?
Because aboriginal title is based on a First Nation's relationship
with the land, these lands cannot be used for a purpose that
may impair traditional use of the land by future generations.
Can the owner sell the land?
Aboriginal title land can only be given up to the federal
What laws protect aboriginal title?
Ordinary land ownership is protected by common law and provincial
statutes. Aboriginal title has the additional protection of
the Canadian Constitution, as do all aboriginal rightsthose
that exist now and those that may be acquired through a treaty.
- What is the difference between a band and a First Nation?
The 1876 Indian Act divided aboriginal
nations with a shared traditional territory, identity, culture,
language and governing body into separate bands and separate
land reserves. The "band" system of administration
was imposed on First Nations and bands were made subject to
detailed supervision by federal officials.
A 'First Nation', for the purposes of treaty
negotiations, must demonstrate:
- an aboriginal governing body organized and
established by aboriginal people within their traditional
territory in British Columbia; and
a mandate from the governing
body's constituents to enter into treaty negotiations
on their behalf with the governments of Canada and British
- What is being negotiated?
Under the BC treaty process, the parties-each First, Canada and BC-may introduce any issue at the negotiation table which it views as significant to the new relationship. Although each treaty negotiation is unique, there will be some commonalities among final treaties:
- First Nations government structures and related financial arrangements
- jurisdiction and ownership of lands, waters and resources
- cash settlements
Treaties will also establish processes for resolving disputes and making changes to the treaty. To get an idea of the kinds of provisions that may be included in a final treaty, see:
- Can the public attend negotiation sessions?
Every treaty table has an Openness Protocol that sets out the times that the general public may attend negotiations. Members of the public are invited to attend and observe these sessions, which often include a question and answer forum. Main Table negotiation sessions are advertised in local media.
- What is self government?
First Nations were self governing long
before Europeans arrived in Canada. In 1876, The Indian Act
came into effect, dismantling traditional governance systems
and imposing regulations on aboriginal peoples' lives. Today,
the Government of Canada recognizes that aboriginal people
have an inherent, constitutionally-protected right to self
governmenta right to manage their own affairs.
Under the BC treaty process, self-government
arrangements will be designed, established and administered
by aboriginal peoples. There is no template for self government;
each First Nation establishes their own unique self-government
arrangement. Self-government provisions may include education,
language and culture, police services, health care and social
services, housing, property rights, child welfare and other
provisions agreed to by the three parties.
The new governing structure will have a constitution
and law-making authority over treaty land and provision of
public services. Regardless of who has jurisdiction over any
particular service after the treaty, the parties must agree
on arrangements for its delivery. The Canadian Constitution
and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will apply to aboriginal
governments as it does to all other governments in Canada.
- What is the difference between constitutionally-protected self government and municipal-style self government?
In a municipal-style of self government,
governance powers are delegated by an act of Parliament and
an act of the BC Legislature and have no constitutional protection.
The Westbank First Nation Self-Government Act (Bill C-11)
is an example of a delegated self-government agreement.
Constitutionally-protected self government,
like the Nisga'a Treaty, is actually passed as Canadian law,
and cannot be changed unless all three partiesCanada,
BC and the First Nationagree. Constitutional protection
ensures that self-governing powers established by the treaty
cannot be taken away.
- Will self government compromise the rights of non-aboriginal people?
One of the main principles of the treaty
process is to balance the interests of non-aboriginals residents
with the aboriginal peoples right to self government. Provisions
for self government will vary from treaty to treaty, guided
by these principles:
- Self government will be exercised within the existing Canadian Constitution. Aboriginal peoples will continue to be citizens of Canada and the province or territory where they live, but they may exercise varying degrees of jurisdiction and/or authority.
- The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Criminal Code of Canada will apply fully to aboriginal governments as it does to all other governments in Canada.
- First Nations will have the ability to make laws pertaining to treaty land and the provision of public service for their people, including health care, education and social services.
- Some local laws like zoning and transportation will apply to all residents on treaty lands, but the majority of treaty laws will apply only to treaty citizens. Federal, provincial, territorial and aboriginal laws must work in harmony.
- First Nations will be required to consult with local residents on decisions that directly affect them (for example, health, school and police boards).
- Once treaties are signed will First Nations pay the same taxes as other Canadians?
It's important to clarify that only aboriginal
people living on reserves receive tax exemptions; most aboriginal
people pay the same taxes as other Canadians.
When the tax exemption came into effect under
the 1876 Indian Act, First Nations did not have the right
to vote, own property or practise many cultural traditions.
First Nations did not gain the right to vote in federal elections
The Indian Act has made economic development
on reserves difficult. Reserve land is held in trust by the
federal government for use by status Indians. Because the
Indian Act stipulates that reserve lands cannot be seized
to enforce payment of a debt, these lands have never been
available for use as collateral. The same is true of all real
and personal property of aboriginal people or bands on a reserve.
Negotiated cash and land settlements will provide First Nations
people with the capital they need to begin businesses and
create jobs and industries.
Through treaties, First Nations will acquire
a land base and establish a government with powers to access
revenues, borrow, receive transfers from other governments
and levy taxes. The governments of Canada and BC seek to gradually
eliminate tax exemptions as First Nations move towards greater
economic self sufficiency. For example, under the Nisga'a
Treaty transaction taxes such as sales tax were eliminated
eight years after the effective date and all other taxes,
including incomes tax, will be eliminated in 2012.
Many First Nations in the BC treaty process
are reluctant to give up their tax exemption when most other
First Nations in Canada will continue to have these exemptions
including those that have signed treaties in the past.
Canada, BC and the First Nations Summit are working together
to find creative solutions to taxation and other fiscal issues.
- How will First Nations become economically self sufficient after so many years of dependency under the Indian Act?
The BC Treaty process is designed to allow First Nations to develop human resource capacity and build economic opportunities as they work towards the final treaty. Through interm measures agreements, First Nations may begin to develop the human resources and economic infrastructure needed to become economically self sufficient. Under current Indian Act regulations, it is extremely difficult for First Nations to acquire business loans.
A 2009 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, concluded that completing treaties with First Nations will deliver more than $10 billion in benefits to British Columbia's economy over the next 15 years.
The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, a 13-year study of indigenous nations in the United States, found economic success is closely linked to the power to make decisions.
- What provisions will ensure self-governments are fiscally responsible?
Each First Nation will develop a constitution
and a government structure with greater accountability for
allocation of funding than is currently provided by the Indian
Act. For example, the Nisga'a Lisims government is required
to prepare and provide audited accounts and financial statements
to its members and to Canada and/or British Columbia.
- Won't treaties only benefit status Indians and First Nations living within their traditional territory?
Treaties will replace Indian Act-imposed band governments with a government authority for all members of a nation. Each treaty will define who can be enrolled under the agreement. Most First Nations will have broader eligibility criteria than current status and non-status designations under the Indian Act. Eligibility criteria will likely require that an individual be of aboriginal ancestry or accepted as a member of the particular nation. All members of a First Nation can vote on a treaty.
Self-government arrangements strive to provide better opportunities for aboriginal people living within their traditional territory, while not excluding those aboriginal people who choose to live elsewhere. For example, several First Nation peoples living in urban areas have been enrolled as Nisga'a citizens, and three urban locals have been established.
- How much land in BC is up for negotiation?
When a First Nation enters the BC treaty process they submit a statement of intent outlining their traditional territory-land occupied historically. This traditional territory establishes the parameters for land to be included in a final treaty.
For most First Nations, treaty settlement lands-area of land that will be owned and managed by First Nations pursuant to a treaty-will likely comprise only a percentage of their traditional territory. For example, land included within the Nisga'a Treaty comprises approximately eight per cent of the nation's traditional territory. Because First Nations culture and spirituality is intrinsically tied to their traditional territory, treaties will likely also include co-management rights on traditional territory outside of treaty settlement land. Many First Nations are already participating in collaborative land-use planning processes.
- Is private property on the negotiation table?
The BC treaty process has always been
guided by the principle that private property (fee simple
land) is not on the negotiation table, except on a willing-buyer,
In urban areas where Crown land is limited,
private property available from willing sellers will be critical
to achieving final treaties.
- Will treaties be final or will there be continued conflict over land and resources?
Certainty, as it relates to treaty making,
refers to the need for all partieseach First Nation,
Canada and BCto have clearly defined land ownership
and jurisdiction. Achieving certainty is the primary goal
of the BC treaty process.
What certainty really means is "predictability"the
familiarity that develops from a history of working together.
Through interim measures agreements, aboriginal and non-aboriginal
communities can start building mutually beneficial governance
arrangements, business relationships, land management processes
and other cooperatives relationships today.
In the past, the Government of Canada required
First Nations to cede, release and surrender their
aboriginal rights in exchange for treaty rights. This is referred
to as an extinguishment model". The idea of extinguishing
aboriginal rights and title, that form the essence of aboriginal
culture and identity, is repulsive to aboriginal people and
unacceptable to First Nations in the treaty process.
A great deal of time and expertise was spent
on all sides of the Nisgaa table to develop what has
been referred to as a modification model. Under
this model, aboriginal rights are not extinguished but are
modified into those rights that are defined in the treaty.
- What does certainty mean?
The primary purpose of treaty making
is to provide certainty for land ownership and jurisdiction
in British Columbia.
Treaties are agreements between three parties.
As such, they can establish structures and mechanisms to deal
with disputes and changing circumstances. This is somewhat
analogous to the flexibility built into municipal financial
arrangements. A treaty cannot be changed unless all three
partiesCanada, BC and the First Nationagree.
To demand that treaties provide a level of certainty
so that they could never be challenged would set the bar impossibly
high; higher than Canadians demand of their own laws and Constitution.
History has proven that court actions do not
resolve these issues. In fact, the court has left more questions
open than answered and has often implored the parties to resolve
their disputes through good faith negotiations.
- How much will treaty negotiations cost?
The cost of not settling treaties is far greater than the cost of treaty making.
A 2009 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, concluded that completing treaties with First Nations will deliver more than $10 billion in benefits to
British Columbia's economy over the next 15 years.
The Treaty Commission allocates negotiation support funding so that First Nations can prepare for and carry out negotiations on equal footing with the provincial and federal governments. Since opening its doors in May 1993 the Treaty Commission has allocated approximately $533 million in negotiation support funding to more than 50 First Nations- $422 million in the form of loans and $111 million in the form of contributions.
The Treaty Commission is a small organization with 10 full-time staff in addition to the five commissioners. The Treaty Commission's operating budget for 2010/11 was $2.55 million. Canada funds 60 per cent of the Treaty Commission's operating costs and BC funds 40 per cent. The Treaty Commission's total operating costs from 1993 to March 31, 2011 are $39 million.
- Who pays for treaty making-the federal government or the provincial government?
Funding for administering the treaty
process and the cash settlement costs are borne jointly by
the provincial and federal governments. The federal government
is responsible for 72 per cent of the total cost of treaties
and the provincial government is responsible for 28 per cent.
Canada funds 60 per cent of the Treaty Commission's
operating budget, and BC funds 40 per cent. Eighty per cent
of negotiation support funding to First Nations is provided
as loans from the federal government, and 20 per cent as contributions
from the federal and provincial governments. The federal government
provides 60 per cent of the contribution funding and the provincial
government provides 40 per cent.
The BC government's share of the overall cost
is estimated at $2 billion, or $50 million annually over 40
years, plus rural Crown land with a estimated value of $2.8
billion to $3.5 billion.
- What are incremental treaty agreements?
An incremental treaty agreement provides early benefits to a First Nation prior to the completion of their treaty.
Incremental treaty agreements have the potential to spur economic development, create incentives to reach further milestones and provide increased certainty over land and resources.
For example, the incremental treaty agreement between Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and the British Columbia government provides 63 hectares of land to be transferred in stages as treaty negotiations progress.
The five parcels of land within the District of Tofino will be transferred as the parties reach milestones in treaty negotiations over the next four years. A 16.3 hectare parcel of land will be transferred immediately. Other transfers of land will come when the agreement in principle is reached, on its first anniversary, when a final agreement is initialed and when it is signed. Most of the land is adjacent to the Tofino industrial area and near the Best Western Tin Wis Resort owned by Tla-o-qui-aht.
The land will form part of the Tla-o-qui-aht final agreement, but is being transferred now as fee simple land. The post-treaty status of the land will be determined through treaty negotiations. In the meantime, the land will be subject to the District of Tofino's zoning rules and property taxes.
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