Members of Lake Babine Nation (LBN) in Burns Lake received an update on the current state of treaty negotiations under the six-stage B.C. Treaty process last week.
Members of (LBN) are concerned that their own treaty negotiations may be compromised by the competing claims of a neighbouring First Nation – the Yekooche Nation – near Fort St. James.
According to the BC Treaty Commission website, the Yekooche are nearing a final treaty agreement. BC Treaty Commission maps outlining the traditional territories of LBN and those territories claimed as traditional by Yekooche show significant overlap, especially around Babine Lake.
Lake Babine Nation has made considerable progress under an Incremental Treaty Agreement (ITA) toward negotiating title to several parcels of land in the Babine Lake area. The ITA, according to LBN Chief Wilf Adam, is not a treaty agreement and does not diminish any LBN claims or title to their traditional territories.
Lake Babine Nation is in stage four of the treaty process. Yekooche are in stage 5, with an agreement in principle formulated.
“There is a danger for LBN that when Yekooche reach a final agreement we will lose some exclusive rights in the east end of Babine Lake from Old Fort east,” Adam said. “This is because the government may grant rights to Yekooche deep into our territory for their use.”
Yekooche First Nation currently holds a non-renewable forest licence to cut west of Fort St. James. The 49,000 cubic metre per year 5-year license will expire on Nov. 30, 2014.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) has indicated that the award of a license to cut does not mean the MFLNRO tacitly acknowledges the territorial claims on the part of Yekooche Nation. According to the MFLNRO, the award of the forest license to cut to Yekooche Nation was the outcome of a normal bidding process.
But Chief Adam remains concerned, and attempts to resolve LBN’s position with the Yekooche have not been fruitful.
“Yekooche is already reaping forestry benefits within our territory because of their false claim within our territory,” he said. “We have made every attempt in finding a fair and correct solution with Yekooche but to no avail. They will not sit down with us in a meaningful manner.”
Although Yekooche Nation is at an advanced stage of treaty negotiations, the B.C. Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation (MARR) cautions that it is not accurate to characterize the situation as a race to reach a treaty.
According to clarification received from MARR, a treaty with one First Nation does not diminish the rights or title of another First Nation with overlapping interests. Treaty provisions with each nation would address overlapping interests or claims.
A complication is that LBN may not recognize the territorial claims made in Yekooche treaty negotiations. Where the treaty commission may see overlap, Adam and the LBN negotiation team may see a false territorial claim.
For concerned LBN members, the dangers of the Yekooche claim are not limited to the recognition of traditional title.
“If that [Yekooche negotiates a treaty for LBN territories] happens, Yekooche will do anything they want in our territory without our consent,” Chief Adam said. “We will never let that happen and will use all means possible to fully protect our territory.”
Yekooche Nation Chief Parent was not available for comment at press time. The Ministry of Aboriginal Recognition and Reconciliation was unable to comment on the specifics of the situation as both LBN an Yekooche are currently engaged in treaty negotiations.