In 2003, the Westbank First Nation ratified a self-government agreement with Canada, one of the first Indigenous communities in the country to do so.
But its decade-long negotiations came at a price, and 16 years later the WFN is still stuck with the debt accumulated negotiating with the federal government.
Now the WFN has been been told Ottawa will forgive treaty loans made during negotiations.
“We were in treaty discussions for well over 10 years,” said WFN Coun. Christopher Derickson. “We are happy to hear that we have the support of the Canadian government. We look forward to sharing this positive news with our membership.”
Derickson and other members of the WFN council met with federal Indigenous Relations Minister Caroline Bennett earlier this week to talk about treaty loan forgiveness, federal policy with respect to rights recognition, a collaborative fiscal policy process and development of a federal implementation branch to increase capacity for government-to-government relations, especially concerning land matters.
Bennett was updated on the need for a federal self-government implementation branch, something contemplated by the WFN’s self-government agreement.
“I want to thank Westbank,” said Bennett at the meeting on the WFN reserve Wednesday. “If it were not for communities like you, we would not be where we are in this country. I believe many of these issues can be corrected with the development of an appropriate implementation branch. We are working nation to nation, and we do have your back. Now we need to demonstrate that we have your back.”
Since the dissolution of Indigenous and Northern Affair Canada, Bennett has been tasked with creating new relationships with Indigenous people in Canada, focusing on the recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights.
There is still a large need for the land exchange policy to be completed that provides additional land to support much needed community housing,” said Raf De Guevara, manager of intergovernmental affairs for WFN and a former WFN councillor.
“Canada is a party to the (WFN) self-government agreement and needs to take an active role in this conversation. We are working with the other three self-governed (indigenous) communities to chart out our needs of the implementation branch in order for it to be effective.”
Bennett and the WFN council members also touched briefly on the issue of reconciliation during their meeting and the importance of developing a rights and recognition framework.
The WFN said it believes the federal government has come a long way in its approach and position, and it looks forward to continuing discussions with Ottawa with rights recognition at the forefront of those talks.
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