Tuesday July 17, 2007
B.C. desperate in Tsawwassen vote
By BILL TIELEMAN
In the old days you might have used a Hudson's Bay blanket, some musket shot, a new suit for the chief and a bit of rum. Not much has changed. Today's Indian agents simply have newer trinkets and nicer suits but they are still up to their old tricks.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip is condemning as "unethical, inappropriate and totally unacceptable" B.C. Liberal government efforts to convince Tsawwassen First Nation members to vote yes in a July 25 treaty referendum.
Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, was reacting to news that the province is sending 40 Tsawwassen members on a trip and promising $15,000 cash for some elders if the treaty passes.
"They're interfering with the vote. I think it's inappropriate, unethical and totally unacceptable what the government is doing," Phillip told 24 hours in an exclusive interview. "It's to buy their yes votes."
Phillip says the government is desperate because if the vote fails, the $1-billion treaty process is dead. To date not a single treaty has been reached.
Aboriginal Relations Minister Mike de Jong confirmed that 40 Tsawwassen members will fly to the Nass Valley to discuss the existing Nisga'a Treaty with Nisga'a members and that about 20 elders will get an immediate $15,000 each if the treaty passes.
B.C. is spending $400,000 on communications to sell the treaty, including hiring Counterpoint Communications' Bruce Rozenhart for ratification work.
Phillip, whose UBCIC represents 30 to 40 per cent of B.C. first nations who reject negotiating treaties, said recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions have "completely eclipsed the treaty process" which extinguishes aboriginal rights and title for "woefully inadequate land and cash."
And earlier this year Prince George's Lheidli T'enneh First Nation voted to reject a $76-million treaty.
In addition, the Huu-ay-aht First Nation on Vancouver Island has a treaty vote on July 28. Huu-ay-aht members are also being flown to Nisga'a territory.
That's why the B.C. and federal governments are pulling out all the stops to win the Tsawwassen vote, Phillip said.
"The government is absolutely desperate to salvage this process, to see this treaty pass," he said.
Phillip says per capita payments to individual Tsawwassen members, including several who live in the United States, are wrong because they don't give the community the financial resources needed for a sustainable economy.
"The Tsawwassen are going outside the community to band members in the U.S. - they have no interest in community or programs there. They're being co-opted to vote yes for a cash payment," he said.
The Tsawwassen treaty is already controversial because it will strip 207 hectares of farmland from the Agricultural Land Reserve to expand the Roberts Bank port terminal's container shipping.
Now it's becoming even more divisive.