Friday, July 27, 2007

The Tsawwassen Treaty

The Tsawwassen First Nation has voted to ratify its modern treaty with the governments of British Columbia and Canada in a strong and clear vote. To my mind this represents a good day for the Tsawwassen if for no other reason that it represents an occasion for them to have made a cloice about their future that was largely their choice.

The deal itself, given the particular circumstances of the Tsawwassen, is likely also an objectively good deal. There was valuable land with real economic development potential included in the package. The land is clustered around their existing community so there is real opportunity to develop local benefits without fragmenting their already small population base and the loss of the tax exemption is probably balanced by the fact that the low incomes of many of the members at present made the exemption a low value item in any event.

What I think though also has to be learned are these lessons: (1) the deal required flexibility, Tsawwassen and British Columbia particularly bent on deeply held position (eg the tax exemption and the Agricultural Land Reserve, respectively) -- future deals will require Canada to show similar flexibility (something it has not demonstrated to date); (2) the deal required the process -- while it took fourteen years the fourteen years were worth it allow the Tsawwassen to develop internal capacity, for the parties to understand each other and themselves and for the real issues to be flushed out. If any party had laid this very same deal on the table fourteen years ago none of the parties would have viewed it as acceptable.

There are still issues to be ironed out -- one of these is how the interests and concerns of adjoining First Nations are going to be addressed. The other, which I think is more important, is how this experience is going to adopted to extend to First Nations where the Tsawwassen 'final settlement' model will not work as well because the lands are not as highly developed and the history is very different. This is going to require thinking through not just 'what is the deal' (each First Nation will need its own deal) but 'what is the process'. It is this last question that must be answered if there is to be a move toward true justice. Unless the governments can open themselves up to new processes other than the BC Treaty Process to bring the non-treaty process Nations into a true New Relationship (and they are shwoing signs of movement, particularly BC) the Tsawwassen agreement and the handfull of agreements that will flow out of the BCTP will be a disappointing evolutionary deadend.

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