The B.C. government and the Tsilhqot’in Nation have signed a five-year framework agreement.
Named the Nenqay Deni Accord, or the People’s Accord, the agreement outlines eight pillars of reconciliation to be negotiated in a holistic manner.
“It establishes a shared vision, principles and structures to negotiate a comprehensive and lasting reconciliation between the Nation and the Province,” the two parties said of the agreement in a joint statement issued last Friday.
Pillars outlined in the accord are Tsilhqot’in culture and language, children and families, healthy communities, justice, education and training, lands and resources and economic development.
Tl’etinqox-t’in (Anaham) Chief and TNG Tribal Chair Joe Alphonse is excited about the accord and said it’s the next step in the Tsilhqot’in’s Supreme Court rights and title win.
“This agreement ensures we’re able to have the resources so we can bring in professionals to help us create a governance structure that can deal with these issues,” Alphonse said.
Alphonse said he envisions the nation will be able to look after the young and the old, balancing modern ways and traditional customs.
“We also want to make sure if resource extraction is happening there have to be benefits to our people,” Alphonse said. “The sooner we get such a deal, the better for everybody.
It is uncertainty that creates division between First Nations and non-First Nations, he added.
“Everyone wants to know what the rules of the game are and it’s a chance to get rid of that uncertainty.”
Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad said Friday for more than 150 years there were various levels of friction and conflict between the Tsilhqot’in and the province, culminating in the Supreme Court rights and title decision in June of 2014.
“Since then we’ve engaged with the Tsilhqot’in to find a new way,” Rustad said, noting after the two sides signed a letter of agreement in September 2014, the government and the Tsilhqot’in have been working together on the accord.
It’s the first of its kind and historic, Rustad said of the agreement.
“We have agreed with the Tsilhqot’in that we will engage with the federal government together to bring them to the table to be partners with us in reaching this long-term reconciliation.”
Historically the federal government has had the most responsibility for First Nations, said Alphonse.
“The Harper government did not want to deal with us. With Justin Trudeau and the Liberals we are hopeful they will deal with us, but to date they haven’t responded to any of our letters,” he said. “The longer they delay the more it’s going to cost them.”
Xeni Gwet’in (Nemiah Valley) Chief and TNG vice-chair Roger William said he is also excited about working with his own community and non-First Nations in the region during the next five years.
“We want to let the public know the signage we have put is all part of the process,” William said, adding they want to work together to protect the backcountry. “The transition needs to be expedited and we need to work with local operators in the area.”
Only Crown land within the Tsilhqot’in territory will be part of the negotiation, with no private lands involved, the joint statement said.
The amount of Crown land will be subject to further negotiations with the Tsilhqot’in.