Canada changing language policy for B.C. First Nations treaties

Canada is changing its policy around First Nations treaties in B.C. in the hope that it can calm concerns around issues of aboriginal rights and title.

A policy document released by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada on March 2 indicates that the federal ministry that oversees First Nations is looking to allow negotiation of language in treaties that recognizes aboriginal rights and title.

The document proposes that treaties use “more respectful language related to recognition of Aboriginal rights as well as language that acknowledges the realities of the past, or reconciliation language.”

Language has been a sticking point in B.C.’s Treaty Process, which aims to cede major portions of Crown and reserve land to First Nations for the purpose of making their own laws and developing their own economies.

Criticisms of the Treaty Process revolve around the issue of aboriginal rights and title, which is guaranteed to First Nations, Inuit and Métis people under Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution Act. Though undefined in the legislation, the section recognizes and affirms the “existing aboriginal and treaty rights” of Canada’s aboriginal peoples.

Aboriginal rights and title have been a sticking point for critics of the In-SHUCK-ch Nation, which has been in the treaty process since 1993. The First Nations involved in that process are the Samahquam and Skatin First Nations. The Douglas First Nation renounced its participation in the treaty after a Jan. 30 referendum.

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