Local First Nations frustrated with B.C.’s New Relationship

By Tracy Clark
News Staff Reporter

May 10 2006


With little federal funding for Aboriginals, there is increased pressure on the New Relationship between the province and First Nations to work quickly, says a local leader.
“Now that the government of
Canada has summarily trashed the Kelowna Accord, there is greater pressure on the New Relationship dialogue to show immediate results and unfortunately that is not happening,” said Chief Stewart Phillip of the Penticton Indian Band and president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
Phillip, who sits on the New Relationship trust fund board, was responding to the province’s release of a New Relationship progress report that discusses the meaning of the New Relationship and its future goals.
The New Relationship, when it was first announced, was touted as “profound” and “promising” by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tom Christensen and a working “alliance” between the government and First Nations, said Grand Chief John Edward at the Special Chiefs Assembly last May.
But the New Relationship dialogue is moving “too slow,” said Phillip.
While he supports the New Relationship dialogue, Phillip, who said he spends much of his time in various meetings dealing with it, is concerned about a lack of results.
While the Kelowna Accord was set to deal with socio-economic issues, including education, health care and housing on reserves now, the New Relationship document was to deal with First Nations title and rights issues in B.C. It would see policy and legislative reform that is consistent with Supreme Court rulings in the Haida and Taku River Tlingit, as well as the Delgamuukw cases, said Phillip.
Those rulings said that government had a legally enforceable duty to consult with First Nations and accommodate their interests before any proposed development or resource extraction could occur on their territories.
For example, Phillip said, the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen’s Regional Growth Strategy infringes on “unceded” Okanagan Nation territory.
The New Relationship document would ensure that First Nations had involvement in any decisions affecting their lands, as well as access to the “wealth from development and resources, which would be used to subsidize health care, education, economic development, housing and community infrastructure in First Nations communities.
“That’s not happening,” said Phillip.
The lack of consultation and therefore lack of influence afforded to the First Nations is creating frustration through First Nations communities, he said.
“And it’s unfortunate that we have to put on masks to be seen and burn tires to be heard, because that seems to be the only thing governments acknowledge when they have a problem, is when they see that happen,” he said.
While First Nations are waiting for policy reforms, Phillip said poverty is continuing affect communities through gang and drug-related violence, infant deaths, suicide and murders. After waiting 13 years for treaty negotiations, First Nations cannot and will not wait another 13 years, said Phillip.
“The frustration in our communities will completely and totally eclipse the good will and the hard work that’s part in parcel of the New relationship dialogue,” said Phillip, adding that he warned the province against entering into the New Relationship if it would not be prepared to follow through with legislative and policy changes.