6 Modern Treaty Negotiations
- Contrast the Numbered Treaties and the modern treaty process.
Other treaties have been in consideration for the last few decades. In 1992, a new process for modern treaty negotiations was started on recommendation from a British Columbia Claims Task Force report (British Columbia Claims Task Force, 1991). These treaty negotiations began as a result of court cases and the Constitution Act, 1982, which reaffirmed the pre-existing Aboriginal rights of Indigenous people. The old notion that all unceded lands were Crown lands was no longer acceptable. Therefore, to create more certainty in the province and develop a new relationship between the government and Indigenous groups, these new treaties would be developed. Despite the federal government having jurisdiction over the matter, the British Columbia government became involved by mutual agreement.
The Numbered Treaties were made on the “extinguishment” model, wherein Indigenous rights and claims to land would be extinguished. The BC Treaty Commission instead operates on the “non-assertion model,” where Indigenous groups would agree not to assert any rights other than ones set out in the final treaty. These treaty negotiations have been ongoing since 1992, with many Indigenous groups entering and exiting negotiations continuously (BC Treaty Commission, n.d.-a).
Although not part of the BC Treaty Commission process, as negotiations started two years prior to its formation, the first modern treaty to be agreed to in B.C. after Treaty 8 in 1899 is the Nisga’a Treaty. Signed in 1998 and effective in 2000, the Nisga’a Treaty grants self-government to the Nisga’a Nation. Located in Nass River Valley (proximate to Terrace and Prince Rupert), the Nisga’a Treaty covers 2,019 square kilometres of land. This treaty has many ground-breaking features:
- The Nisga’a Nation is self-governing and has its own decision-making process. Therefore, the Indian Act no longer applies to the Nisga’a Nation or Nisga’a citizens.
- Nisga’a laws operate alongside federal and provincial laws, and people are required to follow the strictest set of laws concerning an area in which there is concurrent authority.
- Nisga’a laws are subject to the Canadian constitution. For example, the Nisga’a government may not violate their citizens’ rights to free expression or freedom of conscience.
- Nisga’a people are both Nisga’a Nation citizens and Canadian citizens.
- The Nisga’a Nation owns forest resources, and the federal or provincial government may not charge licensing fees for fish harvesting (although the Province may still engage in conservation efforts).
- The Nisga’a government levies taxes against its citizens to help pay for health, education, and social services. (Nisga’a Nation, n.d.-c)
No other treaties with such an amazing scope have been signed since the modern treaty process started.