Shawn Atleo: B.C. and First Nations have much to gain through shared decision-making

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      By Shawn Atleo

      I’m not sure how the weather was almost 100 years ago in Kamloops on August 25, 1910. Given the climate in that area, it was likely a searing summer day when chiefs of the Secwepemc (Shuswap), Nlaka’pamux (Couteau or Thompson), and Okanagan tribes met with Sir Wilfred Laurier, prime minister of Canada. They brought with them a letter: at once, a heartfelt appeal to the government to address the injustices thrust upon First Nations and, at the same time, a stark portrayal of how trusting First Nations befriended newcomers to the land and then were ultimately betrayed by their political leaders.

      “We have no grudge against the white race as a whole, nor against the settlers, but we want to have an equal chance as them at making a living.”¦It is their government which is to blame by heaping up injustice on us. But it is also their duty to see their government does right by us and gives us a square deal,” they wrote.

      The letter, entitled “Memorial to Sir Wilfred Laurier, Premier of the Dominion of Canada” asks Canada’s seventh prime minister to settle the land question, and make treaties between the government and each of their tribes. The chiefs said the treaties would allow them to have a “definite understanding with the government on all questions of moment between us and them”.

      It was a vivid snapshot of the time, illustrating First Nations’ frustrations in the face of a colonialist onslaught and belief that, through peaceful negotiation, they would see justice once again. Today, much of what was written in the letter still holds true. The “land question” is still unanswered, we have very few treaties, and there are still too many “questions of moment” between us and them. Yet, on August 25, 2010, 100 years later, we could find ourselves in an era where the province recognizes our aboriginal title and rights and where those questions become certainty.

      First Nations expect the government of B.C. to introduce the Recognition and Reconciliation Act in the legislature sometime after the provincial election. The act will recognize aboriginal title within our traditional territories and affirm our right to share the benefits and revenues from the resources in these territories. It will acknowledge that indigenous people have long lived throughout B.C. and that this fact does not require proof. It will mean our elders will not have to be dragged into courtrooms to prove our existence. Instead precious time and resources can be invested in our communities, our youth, and our future. It is a bold step in an area where, in the past, those we asked to walk with us refused.

      It is, however, a step not lightly taken. Questions abound over the act’s possible effects on business and the rights of private citizens. Both First Nations and non-First Nations understandably have questions. Those we expect to try to answer in the coming weeks through dialogue. There is much to gain by having shared decision-making with First Nations. This is a far better solution than the current situation, where far too often decision-making becomes bogged down in litigation, consultation, and delay.

      The legislation represents an achievement for all British Columbians. While First Nations peoples know that our rights, inherited from our ancestors, are indisputable, we also know that we are all here to stay. We have to create a new path to move forward together. We must act on the opportunities this legislation will provide. As First Nations, we seek support and are prepared to work and cooperate with all parties to bring about the Recognition and Reconciliation Act.

      As those chiefs said 100 years ago, “These people wish to be partners with us in our country. We must therefore, be the same as brothers to them, and live as one family. We will share equally in everything half and half in land, water and timber etc. What is ours will be theirs, and what is theirs will be ours. We will help each other to be great and good.”

      Shawn Atleo is the regional chief of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations.




      Apr 2, 2009 at 3:22pm

      The Chief has no clothes.

      Atleo's editorial reveals so nakedly his lack of appreciation for what it means to garner critical public opinion for something as profound as what he is only now just starting to promote - legislative recognition of aboriginal rights.

      Apart from needlessly wasting his word count on some fuzzy historical event to underscore the need to improve Crown-First Nations relations provincially, his rhetoric exposes a floundering approach to public dialogue.

      Consider his bold and confident statement that first nations "expect" the (undeveloped) legislation to be passed by the (Liberal?) government after the election, only to undermine this by admitting that "First Nations and non-First Nations understandably have questions." To which, he informs, "we expect to try to answer in the coming weeks through dialogue." Presumably by "we" he means himself and other provincial First Nations leaders.

      This brash (arrogant?) attitude towards public dialogue, where the outcome is predetermined, is nothing more than bad faith consultation. So it is surprising to hear this coming from a reputable first nations leader who knows how much his own constituency dislikes it when that happens to them.

      Then he goes on to claim that the (not yet seen) legislation "represents an achievement for all British Columbians." Another surprising thing to say, given the proverbial elephant in the room is trumpeting that the first draft hasn't even seen the floor of the House.

      He concludes by saying that first nations seek "support" from unnamed parties to bring about this mysterious legislation. At this point it's all starting to get a bit rich.

      Surely Atleo must have an inkling that his proposal needs to be understood with absolute clarity before public support can even be considered a topic of discussion. No, instead of transparency he offers cryptic and conflicted statements.

      Atleo's statements call into question where the public is suppose to draw its confidence from in regards to this legislative prosposal. If it can't be drawn from the highest first nations leader in this province, then is it to be drawn from unknown local first nations leaders who, as Atleo himself concedes, have their uncertainties? Which raises another key question: Are first nations leaders even ready to exercise the authority that is hinted at in this proposal?

      Though it's understandable that first nations have a hunger for change, they of all must know that hunger will sometimes consume rational thinking. So for those first nations that Atleo leads, the cold draft he and they will soon begin to feel portends a bad result for their legislative hopes. For everyone else, it's probably not worth expecting any change by and beyond 2010 in regards to the land question being answered by this road not there.

      - Coyote


      Apr 13, 2009 at 10:20pm

      Sorry , Coyote.....the Chief has more than clothes...he has thousands
      of years of history and ownership. You are mistaken in the belief that
      Chief Atleo needs to "promote" his case to you.
      First Nations in BC have asserted their title from the second that
      European visitors arrived and what Provincial officials are finally
      conceding is that these lands and resources were taken improperly
      and it is time to settle this injustice.Suceeding Governments have
      known this ,but chose to pass it on to future generations hoping
      leaders like Chief Atleo would give up .
      What Chief Atleo is offering is an outstretched hand,not arrogance.
      Perhaps Coyote might take a lesson in statesmanship from a Chief
      that continues to fight tirelessly for the independence of his people
      and an honest reconciliation from us "visitors" that have benefitted
      by the use of his land and rich resources for 150 years.
      Good luck Chief Atleo.

      first nations person

      Aug 25, 2009 at 11:10pm

      I can't believe what I am reading....The government will recognize our Title to our traditional lands, and in the next breath we Have to share the benefits and revenues. In Title we the membership of our lands have a say as individuals what industry takes place within our lands. We shouldn't be bullied by government, industry or even our own leadership to rape our lands of our resources. In Title we have a say in our own governance, economy, and membership.