As they eye finalizing their own treaty negotiations, chiefs of the four Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw communities are applauding the federal Liberal government’s commitment in Budget 2019 to eliminate treaty negotiation loans.
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Carolyn Bennett, was in Vancouver Wednesday, April 10, and said through Budget 2019 the federal government proposes to forgive all out-standing comprehensive claim negotation loans and reimburse Indigenous governments that have already repaid these loans, to address rights and self-determination in communities.
“Communities have done tremendous work in reconstructing their nations and asserting their inherent right to self-determination and self-government, but they have had to do so by shouldering millions of dollars in debt,” Bennett said in a press release.
“Last year we ended the practice of communities needing to take out loans to assert their rights, and this year we are forgiving and repaying the loans for these groups that have concluded their treaties. This is about fairness for those who spent years and millions of dollars to negotiate agreements and Budget 2019 follows through on our commitment to change the way we support self-determination and treaty discussions.”
Chief Patrick Harry, spokesperson for the NStQ and Chief of Stswece’c Xgat’tem (Canoe Creek Band), said treaty loans were a barrier to the whole process.
“I commend this government for taking a stand,” Harry said. “Now we can get on with the work of building a better economic, social and political future for NStQ and all Indigenous people.”
British Columbia First Nations have accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars in debt since the modern-day treaty process began in 1993. The communities of the Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw have themselves accumulated more than $30 million in treaty loans.
“Treaty loans were a barrier to the whole process and I commend this government for taking a stand,” said T’exelc Chief Willie Sellars. “Now we can get on with the work of building a better economic, social and political future for NStQ and all Indigenous people.”
Tsq’escen’ (Canim Lake Band) Chief Helen Henderson said the money that would have gone into paying back loans can now go toward support for Indigenous children and families, education, housing and improving the lives of community members.
“The importance of this measure cannot be overstated,” Henderson said.
Chief Sheri Sellars, Xat’sull (Soda Creek-Deep Creek Band) added for the past 25 years it seemed reconciliation was only available with more and greater costs to Indigenous communities.
“Now, we can begin to see real change just might be at hand,” Sellars said.
Bennett said forgiving and reimbursing loans will allow more than 200 Indigenous communities to reinvest in their priorities like governance, infrastructure and economic development that will increase health and well-being for all community members.