B.C.'s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation John Rustad addresses the Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce.

B.C.'s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation John Rustad addresses the Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce.

Aboriginal minister speaks to Williams Lake chamber

Currently 485 short-term agreements are in place between the B.C. government and First Nations designed to addresses rights and title.

Currently 485 short-term agreements are in place between the B.C. government and First Nations designed to addresses rights and title.

“We have this large land base and very few treaties,” Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation John Rustad told members of the Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce during a presentation last Thursday.

“We have to find ways to be able to work through rights and title to ensure forestry, ranching, tourism and all other industries can happen in a way that works with First Nations and respects rights and title.”

One of those agreements is the Nenqay Deni Accord.

It is the five-year agreement the province signed with the Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG) in February of this year, almost two years after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Williams rights and title case.

“The agreement maps out a path on how we will work through and address the issue of title and find a way to be able to build and support a local economy for First Nations while at the same time understanding there’s going to be some transition on how we support industry and other people in the area that have an interest or want to be out on that land base,” Rustad said.

Back in 1991, there was a decision made in B.C. to try to create modern day treaties with First Nations, Rustad said, noting 25 years and $640 million dollars later, three treaties have been signed covering seven First Nations.

Many First Nations are understandably frustrated because it’s a long process, Rustad added.

The government is trying to determine how to make short-term agreements longer, Rustad said.

“If a company wants to invest in a mill or something like that they want some certainty. We know what the timber supply will be, but we don’t know what rights and title may do on the land base in terms of that interaction.”

The challenge, he added, is to create certainty on the land so people have confidence to invest, but at the same time ensure First Nations interests are addressed.

“For many First Nations unemployment is high and there are other social issues, but given the way they’ve been engaged in the past, it’s not surprising.”

There have been successes with many First Nations because they’ve engaged in the economy and helped improve it in the region, Rustad said.

“Since the Tsawwassen First Nation signed its treaty, more than $600 million has been invested on treaty land that has benefited not just their nation but the whole region.”

In the future, the government wants to do a better job engaging non First-Nations, Rustad said.

“We need to get your feedback and where possible adjust and adapt to create something that works for everyone. We want to see success for both groups.”



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