Not so fast on the Nenqay Accord

Land designation should play an important role in negotiations

By Mark Crawford

My initial response to the successful negotiation of the Nenqay Demi Accord announced this February was highly positive because I viewed the accord primarily from the perspective of the Chilcotin Supreme Court decision on aboriginal rights and its application to the long-simmering conflict over the Prosperity Mine.

My reasoning was as follows: the fact that a high bar had been set by the Supreme Court, the federal cabinet, and the environmental reviews, meant that the parties would be measured under the Accord by how well they adhered to eight mutually agreed-upon Pillars of Reconciliation.

The federal government would presumably be measured by these criteria as well.

Any economic project that cleared all of these hurdles, I reasoned, would be something that the vast majority of the community could agree upon and unite behind.

But that was before someone pointed out the map for the territory being discussed in the Nenqay Demi Accord was quite different from the map that had been referred to by the Supreme Court; and before I had reflected upon Christy Clark’s motivation in rushing things to a conclusion.

The map for the Accord now includes Quesnel, plus the area west of the Fraser River up to and including part of Tweedsmuir Park. This takes in land that other bands lay claim to, and this could cause more conflict than unity.

Sure, no one’s private property is being expropriated, but we have an interest in public property, too. The government should not use land claims as way of getting around provincial park designation in order to promote industrial development. And by choosing a larger, more controversial map, the parties to this accord are creating the same problem that was the “dark side” of the Nisga’a and Tsawwassen treaties: that of overlapping tribal claims.

The Ulkatcho, Bella Coola and Redstone people must not be thrown under the bus just to placate one First Nation and promote development for the next election.

Accordingly, it is imperative that lands designated as Category A, which will be under exclusive Chilcotin control, must meet three conditions: (1) they should not be extended to areas outside of the territory referred to in the Supreme Court decision; (2) they should not extend to lands subject to overlapping claims by other First Nations; and (3) they should not fall within the current boundaries of Tweedsmuir Park.

Other lands may be designated as “caretaker areas,” which recognize the Chilcotin people as holding special rights and responsibilities, but not to the exclusion of other parties.

While much work remains to be done (the precise location of Category A and Caretaker lands will be negotiated between now and 2020), that to me is the bottom line, if the Nenqay Accord is to be worthy of broad public support.

Mark Crawford teaches at Athabasca University. He can be reached at markcrawf@gmail.com.