About First Nations Treaty Process
Treaties follow a comprehensive process. The Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation leads the Province's participation in Final Agreement and advanced Agreement-in-Principle negotiations, interim measures and other agreements.
Treaty negotiations in British Columbia are needed to:
- Uphold and recognize Indigenous rights as defined in the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and affirmed in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act
- Meet legal obligations, including section 35 rights of the Canadian Constitution, to clearly define the rights and responsibilities of the Province, Canada and First Nations
- Provide a cooperative way to resolve issues and help avoid future conflict in the courts
- Recognize the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples so that First Nations have space to exercise their jurisdiction and manage their own affairs
- Bring certainty to land and resource rights, which maximize opportunities for economic development and job creation for all British Columbians
Treaties accomplish many goals that benefit First Nations, government and all British Columbians through:
- Certainty to land and resources ownership and resource management
- Clarity on hunting and fishing rights
- Reduced conflict over land and resources
- Encouragement of investment and new opportunities through business, jobs and participation in the provincial economy
- Protection of Indigenous culture through language, songs, stories, ceremonies, values, beliefs and way of life
- Greater self-determination for First Nations communities
- Providing tools to build strong government-to-government relationships
- Opportunities to build partnerships for mutual economic and social benefit
What is a Treaty?
A treaty is a negotiated agreement that sets out clearly defined rights and responsibilities of First Nations and the federal and provincial governments. It is also a full and formal expression of reconciliation between First Nations and government. Treaty-making is used to build relationships with First Nations based on the principles of mutual respect, recognition and reconciliation.
Another significant goal is to establish certainty over British Columbia Crown land and resources. Treaties clearly define the rights and responsibilities of all parties in the negotiations. Treaties will also lead to greater self-determination for First Nation communities, and support the well-being of Indigenous people and economies.
There are three parties at each treaty table: the First Nation(s), Canada and British Columbia. Each party is represented by a negotiating team. For 30 years, the BC Treaty Commission (BCTC) has been facilitating the process of treaty-making between the three parties in those areas of the Province where historic treaties do not exist or where First Nations with pre-confederation treaties wish to create modern treaties.
The details of matters under negotiation may vary, depending on demographics, location and other factors. Many topics are common to all treaty tables, such as:
- Land title
- Forest and resources
- Access to lands and resources
- Capital transfer
- Roads and rights of way
- Wildlife and migratory birds
- Environmental assessment and protection
- Intergovernmental relations
How does the treaty process work?
Treaties follow a process facilitated by the BCTC. To begin the process, a First Nation files a statement of intent with the BCTC to negotiate a treaty with B.C. and Canada. The BCTC then coordinates the treaty table consisting of negotiators represented by the First Nation, the Province and the federal government. Once the parties are ready to negotiate, topics are raised for discussion at the treaty table negotiation sessions.
Role of the Provincial Government
British Columbia is involved in treaty negotiations because many issues fall under provincial jurisdiction, most importantly Crown land and resources.
The Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation (MIRR) leads B.C.’s participation in treaty negotiations, interim measures and other agreements with First Nations and the federal government on lands and resources, governance, fiscal relations and capacity-building.
MIRR works with Indigenous leaders, government agencies, industry, local government and the public to build support for negotiated agreements and coordinates the cross-government implementation of treaties and other agreements as they are concluded.
The report of the British Columbia Claims Task Force (1991) provided 19 recommendations that all parties subsequently accepted and formed the blueprint for a made-in-B.C. treaty process. The recommendations outline how the three parties could begin negotiations and what the negotiations should include. British Columbia's role in treaty negotiations is ensure that:
- Interests of all British Columbians are represented and protected
- Treaties work in British Columbia
- Treaties are fair and affordable
- Canada lives up to its legal and constitutional obligations
- All interested parties have the opportunity to be consulted
Recognition and Reconciliation of Rights Policy
The provincial and federal governments and the First Nations Summit finalized a new policy in 2019, Recognition and Reconciliation of Rights Policy for Treaty Negotiations in British Columbia to guide treaty negotiations in the province.
The policy aims to base treaties on a recognition of the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples, and states explicitly that treaties do not require Indigenous Peoples to extinguish their rights. It also includes the recognition that a Treaty is a living agreement requiring periodic renewal and a built-in approach for the incorporation of new rights.
What is self-government?
Self-government refers to the ability of Indigenous people to govern themselves within the framework of the Canadian Constitution and outside of the federal Indian Act. Through self-government, Indigenous people make decisions about matters that affect them, such as health, education and child welfare. Self-government also include the ability of Indigenous governments to exercise their jurisdiction by raising revenues (e.g., fees and taxation), managing lands and resources, and negotiating with other governments on such matters as joint service delivery and economic development.