Perhaps, in 1992, the election of a man affiliated with this Summit to Chair the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues – understood to be advancing the cause of self-determination, land rights, and everything else contained in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, would not be an obvious contradiction in terms. However, twenty years later, after the ratification of two extinguishment treaties in that process, this election must be a point of confusion.
When Nisga’a ratified an agreement with British Columbia and Canada in 2000, they released the Nisga’a claim to 100 per cent of their traditional territory in exchange for about 8 per cent of the land back, in Fee Simple Title and with BC holding the underlying title. No alarm bells were rung by Chief John. Every First Nation in BC was watching that process very closely, as they believed, rightly, that future negotiations in the BC treaty process would follow the Nisga’a template.
When, in 2007, Tsawwassen became the first Indigenous people to ratify a Final Agreement produced in the BC Treaty Commission, the text of that document stated:
Tsawwassen First Nation releases Canada, British Columbia and all other persons from all claims, demands, actions, or proceedings, of whatever kind, and whether known or unknown, that the Tsawwassen First Nation ever had, now has or may have in the future, relating to or arising from any act, or omission, before the effective date that may have affected or infringed any aboriginal rights, including aboriginal title, in Canada of the Tsawwassen First Nation.
This clause is also to be found in the Nisga’a Agreement. It is a surrender, rather than the basis of continuing nation-to-nation relations. Tsawwassen made these concessions for a settlement of less than 1 per cent of their traditional territory, held in Fee Simple. The total cash value of the deal was $33.6 million plus self-government funding of $2.9 million annually over the first five years of the treaty – according to government press releases.
Perhaps Chief John takes a leaf out of then-Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl’s book, who declared at the time, “Who am I to say if it’s a good deal or not?”
John is still the Chair of the First Nations Summit today.
Maa-nulth agreed to the same releases when it ratified a Final Agreement in this process later in 2007. Other identical provisions in all three Agreements include the release of Indian Status, including tax-free status; the “modification” (extinguishment) of their aboriginal rights to be only those rights exhaustively defined in the Agreements; the dissolution of the Indian Band; and the termination of Indian Reserve lands: “Fee Simple Lands are not ‘lands reserved for the Indians’ within the meaning of the Constitution Act, 1867, and are not ‘reserves’ as defined in the Indian Act.”