By Manavpreet Singh
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. -Some local First Nation members are calling the Treaty Land Entitlement settlements a positive step for future generations.
Five Treaty 8 First Nations recently settled TLE claims with provincial and federal governments. According to a provincial release, the settlements resolved decades-old claims by the First Nations, stating they did not receive all the lands owed them in Treaty 8 claims. These First Nations first signed the Treaty of Land Entitlements in 1899.
Doig River First Nation Elder Margaret Davis says the settlements would have a massive impact on the younger generations of Doig River First Nation.
“We will build a trade school to support our youth and teach them industry skills so they can succeed,” said Davis.
The settlements, according to Davis, are a tribute to everyone involved and especially those who did not live long enough to see the resolutions.
Clarence Apsassin, a former Treaty 8 Tribal chief and a Blueberry River First Nation member, believes the settlements “reflect the sacrifices and efforts of Elders and community members to protect Indigenous sacred land.”
Apsassin believes that the future of Indigenous communities is spiritually connected to their ancestor’s stories of the past.
“As long as we remember our ancestor’s struggles and follow their path, we will strive as a community,” said Apsassin.
When dealing with Treaty land rights, Apsassin thinks it is crucial to be conscious of the cultural aspect of First Nations.
“The settlements will provide the resources to sustain our economy, which is fundamental for the economic growth of the Peace region, but we as First Nations should also focus on reviving the cultural traditions by following our ancestor’s way of life,” said Apsassin.
George Desjarlais, a former West Moberly chief, says it was a dream to witness such a historical moment and be present at the ceremony in Vancouver with fellow Treaty 8 Tribal First Nation members.
Signed in 1899, Treaty 8 promised First Nations to have their traditional hunting grounds and use their land according to their ancestor’s values. However, First Nations have not been able to use and benefit from their traditional land for more than 100 years.
According to B.C.’s Premier, David Eby, the TLE settlements will compensate five Treaty 8 First Nations for their losses and will create economic opportunities for the Peace region.
“Honouring Treaty 8 is a key part of our work to advance reconciliation and reconnect these five Nations with their land,”
Desjarlais still feels there is a long way to go for First Nations regarding actual reconciliation. Still, he acknowledges the importance of the TLE settlements and considers this an opportunity to pay respects to community members who fought for decades.
“The true reconciliation for First Nations is a never-ending process, but we should keep working collectively as a community to achieve our legal rights,” Desjarlais.
The provincial and federal governments have been negotiating with the five First Nations in Northeast B.C. since 2004. According to the B.C.’s Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, the TLE settlements resolution is a collective effort by the chiefs, councils, communities, and negotiators of northeast B.C. First Nation groups.
According to Desjarlais, Elders must create awareness about Indigenous people’s tragic past and teach their children that the settlements are not restricted to economic benefits but are a reflection of their resistance to preserve the Indigenous identity.
“As an Elder of West Moberly First Nations, I would encourage Indigenous youth to be more involved in politics in the near future.
For First Nation communities, it is important to have their representatives,” he said.
Local First Nation members hope the government and industry will respect their traditions and coordinate accordingly in the future to create a sustainable environment free of prejudices and inequality.
Manavpreet Singh is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with ENERGETICCITY.CA. LJI is a federally funded program.