Snuneymuxw chief speaks out in Ottawa
Snuneymuxw Chief Doug White told the federal Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples on Wednesday that Canada's First Nations should be recognized as another level of government.
White is a member of the political executive of the First Nations Summit Task Group that appeared before the committee in Ottawa to provide testimony on the current state of treaty negotiations in British Columbia. He is also a lawyer who spent almost two years representing mostly First Nations governments for the Vancouver law firm Mandell Pinder before being elected as chief of the Snuneymuxw in 2009.
White told the committee that both B.C. and Ottawa need to adopt a more "expansive approach" to treaty negotiations in B.C. to bring them to successful conclusions, but there appears to be no commitment at this time on behalf of the senior levels of government to achieve that goal. White's comments to the committee come on the heels of his challenge last week to the City of Nanaimo and the Harmac pulp mill to ensure the Snuneymuxw will be part of any watersharing agreement between the parties.
"We're almost 20 years into the latest negotiations process but very little has been accomplished and we want to get the negotiations back on track," White said.
"I have to be optimistic and I'm a firm believer that negotiations are the only means to achieve just settlements for Canada's First Nations. However, after 20 years, many are losing their patience and First Nations are considering a wide range of options. We're not in this just for it to become another footnote in a historical textbook."
The treaty negotiation process with the Snuneymuxw began more than 18 years ago and an Agreement in Principle was reached with the B.C. Treaty Commission in 2003, but a ratification vote among band members never occurred due to a number of outstanding issues and the process has been almost dormant ever since.
White said First Nations might work toward their goals through the court system, both domestically and internationally.
He pointed to the work of Vancouver Island's Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group and its ongoing human rights complaint over land issues on the Island as an example.