Treaty vote flawed, says B.C. Treaty Commission

A final treaty agreement is tantalizingly close for the In-SHUCK-ch First Nation, the first to formally join the B.C. treaty process back in 1993.

A final treaty agreement is tantalizingly close for the In-SHUCK-ch First Nation, the first to formally join the B.C. treaty process back in 1993.

But one of the three bands that make up the nation in the Lillooet Valley north of Harrison Lake pulled out of treaty talks last January after holding a referendum the B.C. Treaty Commission now says was flawed.

“The results of the (referendum) did not determine the will of a majority of Douglas First Nation members, as only 38 per cent participated in the vote,” treaty commissioner Dave Haggard said in a Jan. 12 letter to Douglas Chief Don Harris.

Haggard said the DFN must now decide whether to hold another referendum and ask its members if they want to return to the treaty table. Or abide by last year’s Jan. 30 vote and remain outside the process – in which case the nation would still be liable for its share of the In-SHUCK-ch treaty debt.

Gerard Peters, In-SHUCK-ch chief negotiator, said all the concerns that led to the DFN leadership pulling out of the treaty talks have now been addressed in the draft agreement.

But neither he nor the commission have been able to meet formally with the DFN leadership to discuss the changes, which include requirements for majority votes by each band before the treaty is ratified, and measures to protect each band’s post-treaty governance and economic arrangements.

Chief Harris could not be reached for comment this week, but in an earlier interview he told The Progress the nation’s concerns involved being “outnumbered” by the two larger bands in future votes, and protection of the nation’s business interests.

He said an “overwhelming” number of band members – 55 – had voted to pull out of treaty talks while only 12 voted to continue negotiations.

But the commission questioned how many DFN members were aware of the referendum – and thus may have missed the vote – and what the actual voting results were as the commission received “estimates only” without any official reports from an electoral officer.

“On the face of the information we do have, the results do not meet the minimal threshold of a final and binding referendum,” Haggard said.

Peters said if a decision is not made by the Douglas leadership by the end of March, the Skatin and Samahquam bands are prepared to go ahead with a vote to ratify a final treaty agreement.

But he urged Douglas leaders to return to the treaty table, and to take part in the ratification vote.

“If Douglas band members, as a majority, reject the ratification, it will be entirely transparent they don’t support treaty, and then we can modify the final agreement,” to meet their concerns, he said.

rfreeman@theprogress.com