Treaty talks worry B.C. ranchers

Cattle producers concerned with unknowns as the government 
negotiates with First Nations to settle unresolved land claims

WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C. — There has been no significant progress in finalizing treaties with First Nations groups in British Columbia although some negotiations have progressed and could be settled in a few years.

Cattle producers with grazing leases on land under negotiation who are concerned about land and water have been assured they will not be displaced, but uncertainty remains.

“Those areas will be protected and continue without loss or reduction,” said Kenneth Batemen, chief negotiator for the Northern Shuswap (NStQ) treaty negotiations.

“NStQ intends and would like to work with you and join the ranching community to expand and strengthen that community,” said Bateman at the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association annual meeting in Williams Lake May 23-25.

NStQ is a multi-community First Nation comprising four Indian Act bands: Stswecem’c/Xgat’tem (Canoe Creek/Dog Creek), T’exelc (Williams Lake), Tsq’escen’ (Canim Lake), and Xats’ull (Soda Creek).

The Northern Shuswap negotiations have been underway since 1993 and could be finalized in three to five years. The claim covers about 16.062 million acres of mostly crown land.

Under this treaty the bands want self-government and the ability to control their own finances with shared management of resources.

Unlike most of the First Nations in Canada, treaties were not signed with B.C. First Nations groups and settlements have been under negotiation for decades, said Gordon Keener of the Xats’ull First Nation and treaty manager. He ranches near Williams Lake.

The treaty is expected to include treaty settlement land, a cash settlement and also subsurface resources, water, forestry and range resources and fisheries.

“Range and forest settlements will be two separate negotiations because in the Cariboo, 80 percent of the land base we are talking about has some sort of grazing licence or tenure on it so we have to work on that as a separate issue,” said Keener.

Treaty settlement lands will be transferred to the NStQ as part of the treaty and will be owned by the NStQ government. These do not include reserves governed by the federal government.

They want shared decision making with the province over resource development. They have promised to grant access to the land for recreation and other uses, as well as to corridors for rail lines, highways and provincial hydro rights of way.

“We won’t be landlocking or isolating people from their land,” he said.

They may also buy more land. The Canoe Creek and Dog Creek bands have already bought some land.

Grant Huffman, chair of the BCAA’s aboriginal affairs committee, said uncertainty remains.

“The natural resource community feels it is taking the brunt of the changes that are coming,” he said.

There are tenures on the land and it is not clear what may come to pass or what compensation is available for those who may lose grazing rights.

Adding to the uncertainty is government affirmation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples but there is no indication how Ottawa or the province intend to act.

“There is a lack of direction that we are seeing in this implementation. We totally understand but we need to know what that path is looking like. We don’t have a lot of direction from top to bottom,” said Kevin Boon, manager of the BCAA.

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