Open houses begin on 5 proposed Vancouver Island treaties
Five First Nations on Vancouver Island are close to wrapping up nearly three decades of treaty negotiations, and the public is invited to learn more about the proposed deals at a series of open houses starting Saturday.
The nations — Beecher Bay (SC'IA⁄NEW), Malahat, Snaw-Naw-As (Nanoose), Songhees, and T'Sou-ke — negotiate together as the Te'mexw Treaty Association, but will each have separate treaties.
After 28 years of talks, they could have treaty packages signed by the nations and the federal and provincial governments by the end of this year. Each nation's members would then vote on whether to ratify the agreements.
The treaties give the nations the right to self-govern, create certain laws, and establish ongoing funding arrangements. They will also include the transfer of some provincial and federal land, as well as one-time transfers of cash to the nations.
Rebecca Penz, director of consultation and engagement for B.C.'s Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, recently told Victoria city council that the treaties are complex, thousand-page documents, and the open houses are a first step to ensure people "understand what this looks like and what it means."
The open houses, which will be held in communities in each nation's traditional territory, will share details of the proposed treaties, and the nation's history. The public will be able to ask questions and share their thoughts.
'It's an education'
Jackie Albany, a co-negotiator on behalf of the Songhees First Nation, in the greater Victoria region, remembers seeing community leaders begin the treaty process in the 1990s, and said it's exciting to be getting close to the finish line.
"This will take us out from under the Indian Act," she said in an interview with CBC News, explaining that the treaty will set the stage "for our self-government, self-determination, making our own laws, making our own decisions, going forward."
She said the open houses are a learning opportunity and she looks forward to hearing comments and questions from the public.
"It's an education," she added, "because not everybody knows the true history of greater Victoria, the Douglas Treaties, and the Songhees people."
The Douglas Treaties were signed with 14 First Nations, including Songhees, on Vancouver Island in the 1850s. The new treaties will co-exist with the Douglas Treaties, which maintained fishing and hunting rights.
The first open house takes place Saturday at the Songhees Wellness Centre from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Others will take place in Sooke, Colwood, Nanoose Bay, Victoria, Shawnigan Lake, and Metchosin, as well as online.