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Author Topic: Tsawwassen Treaty Before The UN  (Read 3374 times)

chris gadsden

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Tsawwassen Treaty Before The UN
« on: February 13, 2009, 02:46:49 PM »

Tsawwassen First Nation treaty before UN


 A long-time opponent of the Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN) treaty agreement is asking the United Nations to intervene by declaring the recently ratified treaty is a violation of her aboriginal rights.

Bertha Williams will make her case in person on Monday, when she is scheduled to appear before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva, Switzerland.

The committee agreed to hear Williams after the TFN member sent a letter outlining her concerns about the agreement.

“My birthright has been stolen from right under me,” Williams told The Leader shortly before departing for Europe. “My hope is the United Nations will look at it.”

Like her parents and grandparents, Williams grew up on a 50-acre parcel of family-owned land in the TFN reserve in South Delta. Her house is located across the road from the longhouse where the terms of the agreement between the Coast Salish band and the federal and provincial governments were first unveiled in 2006.

The treaty, which takes effect this spring, will give the TFN 724 hectares of land, roughly doubling the reserve land base, along with nearly $32 million in cash and one-time funding, and a portion of the commercial salmon fishery.

However, band members will over time lose their federal Indian Act tax exemptions, and reserve lands will be converted to a different kind of ownership where they can be mortgaged and taxed.

Williams, a persistent critic of the agreement and the process that produced the treaty, said the deal has traded away the “protections and few rights and privileges” provided by the Indian Act without getting enough in return.

She said she is not a fan of the Indian Act, but the new treaty is no improvement.

Under the act, the land belonging to her family could never be sold to non-natives or taken away by the band council, but under the treaty it is a real possibility, Williams said.

Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird has called that unlikely, pointing to treaty provisions that require reserve land to be sold to other Tsawwassen members or the council.

Baird, the head negotiator for TFN during the treaty talks, has defended the agreement as a “bright new beginning” that will end her people’s dependence on government largesse.

“We will be able to take control over our own destiny,” Baird said.

Under the treaty, TFN will have the same rights as other municipalities in the Lower Mainland, including representation on the Metro Vancouver board along with the powers to make laws, impose property taxes and plan development.

Williams said asking reserve residents to pay land taxes is simply not fair.

“We shouldn’t have to be paying taxes on land that is ours (traditional territory) in the first place,” Williams said. “I don’t see how the people here will be able to afford it.”

Her main point is that she did not consent to give up her rights under the Indian Act and believes no one has the legal power to strip her of those rights without her consent.

The UN committee does not have the direct authority to order the Canadian government to alter the TFN treaty provisions, but if it does declare the treaty a violation of aboriginal rights, it could embarrass the government into making changes.

That occurred in 1985, when the Canadian government changed the law that stripped native women of their status when they married non-native men, after the United Nations had declared the practice unjust.

It was the result of a complaint filed by a First Nations woman from New Brunswick.

Williams is hoping for a similar outcome.