Michael Laycock
Whistler Question (Whistler, B.C.)
June 1996

After months of wrangling over procedure, negotiators in area native treaty talks have initialled a framework agreement.

The initialling, which sets the stage for agreement-in-principle negotiations similar to those recently completed by the Nisga’a, took place Monday at the federal treaty negotiation office in Vancouver.

A framework agreement would set an agenda for the treaty negotiation process and list topics for negotiations.

The event drew mixed reaction from Gerard Peters, chief negotiator for the In-Shuck-ch/N’Quatqua people.

“It’s anticlimactic,” Peters said Tuesday.

“I don’t feel any reason to celebrate. They (the federal and provincial governments) should have done it when they said they were going to.”

While he added he was pleased to be moving on to the next stage, Peters reiterated his past displeasure with what he sees as the slow progress of the negotiations.

“Hopefully we’ll get on with the real negotiating now.”

Federal negotiator Robin Dodson was in a more upbeat mood about the initialling.

“I think it’s a good feeling,” he said. “It obviously marks a significant step in the proceedings.”

Dodson added he would like to see the process move faster.

“But you can only push water up a hill so far,” he said, noting that the process takes time and must be approached carefully.

“We’ll be patient until the fall, and then we really need to move.”

Before the next set of formal three-party negotiations July 19, Dodson hopes the parties can establish the first of several “side tables” at which their representatives would focus on general provisions such as ratification (ie. defining a method by which the In-Shuck-ch/N’Quatqua would say whether they are prepared to accept the terms of a treaty).

Such issues may be largely procedural, but they are crucial for ensuring an eventual treaty could survive court challenges, Dodson said.

The framework agreement could in theory be formally signed at the July 19 negotiations set to take place in D’Arcy, Dodson said, but he added that outcome was unlikely and would depend on the availability of federal ministers.

Instead, the meeting will likely focus on setting up a second side table and determining the priority of issues for the next stage of negotiations.

Peters said he is prepared to sign the agreement July 19, but he doubted the other parties would be ready due to their limited manpower.

He also voiced a concern that the provincial negotiators are “going to need to play catch-up” in the process.

The provincial team is “not as focused” on the negotiations as the other two parties, possibly as a result of the recent election, he said.

Provincial negotiator Gordon Douglas was not available for comment at press time.

Peters added he was pleased with the NDP’s win in the election and the maintaining of John Cashore as Aboriginal Affairs Minister.

“Of course it’s good news,” he said. “If there had been a change of government, the process would at least have lagged. Time is of the essence for everyone to get on with their lives.”