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B.C. treaty commissioner expects UNDRIP bill to speed talks

Speeding up treaty talks

The often bumpy and slow path toward treaty making in British Columbia has a new tool that can help glide over major obstacles and potentially help produce more than three dozen agreements near completion, says Treaty Commissioner Celeste Haldane.

The B.C. government's recent passage of Bill 41, legislation implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, should result in smoother and less cumbersome treaty negotiations, she said.

"I also think it's complementary to the negotiation process because everything that's envisioned in the declaration is available in the treaty process, and UNDRIP and Bill 41 provide a framework to move forward in B.C. and that's whether in treaty talks or not," said Haldane.

She said the B.C. legislation could provide the final impetus for reaching 37 treaty agreements with Indigenous nations who are in the final stage of talks with the provincial and federal governments.

Haldane said Indigenous nations from Vancouver Island, the northwest coast and the Interior have reached stage five in the six-stage process.

"I would say the treaty negotiations process will be complementary to the legislation in B.C., and why I say that is because in our process our mandate has changed to include the implementation of UNDRIP," she said. "We are already seeing that happen at treaty tables where treaty negotiations are incorporating the declaration into negotiations and into their treaties."

Haldane said she did not want to put time estimates on when the 37 nations will reach treaty settlements, but suggested once stage five is reached, final treaties are signed within two years.

B.C. introduced modern-day treaty making in the early 1990s and seven Indigenous Nations have reached treaty agreements since then. The Nisga'a Nation in B.C.'s northwest negotiated a treaty outside of the process.

Of B.C.'s more than 200 Indigenous nations, only about two dozen have signed treaties, with most dating back to the 1800s when the province was a British colony.

Last month, B.C. became the first province in Canada to pass legislation to implement the UN declaration, mandating the government to bring its laws and policies into harmony with the declaration's principles.

Haldane said the B.C. legislation brings all parties in treaty talks closer together.

"It's not about a veto," she said. "I believe it's about moving to consent. It's about having a seat at the table at the same time as everyone else when you are looking at decision making. It's not something to be scared of."



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