Shellfish agreement precedes K'omoks voting
Terms have been negotiated for an interim measures agreement that would increase the K’ómoks First Nation's capacity in the shellfish aquaculture industry.
But the bigger picture remaining is an agreement in principle (AIP) that the band and senior levels of government continue to hammer away at prior to March 26, when K’ómoks members vote to approve or reject a draft of the non-legally-binding document.
The three parties are attempting to reach an agreement on a variety of issues such as land interests that will form the basis of a treaty reached under the auspices of the B.C. Treaty Commission. Negotiations have been in Stage 4 — the critical stage of the six-stage treaty process — since 2007. Last year, the KFN indicated it was nearing completion of the AIP.
"One of the outstanding issues had been the aquaculture agreement," KFN chief negotiator Mark Stevenson said. "It hasn't been signed, but all of the elements have been negotiated. Building capacity is an ongoing issue, and we've received help from both Canada and British Columbia on that."
The band is looking for community partners to support its capacity-building strategy.
"It will be a pretty big undertaking," Stevenson said. "As for the actual negotiations, there's nothing further at this stage until after the vote."
After that, there will be other matters to negotiate and finalize, such as additional land parcels, revenue-sharing and fishery matters.
Stevenson said the vote is a question as to whether KFN members want to move towards a final agreement based on the AIP, which would not be finalized until all parties sign the document. If and when that happens, a formal signing ceremony would be held.
"It's a great opportunity for K’ómoks to move forward," Stevenson said. "On a per-capita basis it's, I think, the best AIP that's been negotiated to date...The big news will be March 26. Hopefully K’ómoks will choose to move forward on that date."
He is, however, mindful that "voting is always unpredictable" in a democracy.
"We're simply seeking approval from the community to move forward," Stevenson said. "We need to show there's enough support to continue with negotiations."
The AIP is like a blueprint of a final agreement, under which KFN would no longer be governed under the Indian Act. The band instead would make its own laws and establish its own constitution.
The province brings land, resources and water rights to the table while Canada is primarily responsible for fish and fiscal matters — including financing of the K’ómoks government and tax matters — as well as military property.
Access at Goose Spit has been a serious roadblock to negotiations. The tip of the spit is reserve land. It also serves as a Department of National Defence military training site, which means First Nations are required to identify themselves to security guards if they wish to access the area.
The treaty team is demanding unrestricted access through the middle portion of the spit and the foreshore, and transfer of a 9.8-hectare portion to the KFN.
"That's a big one," Stevenson said. "The very end of Goose Spit is DND property, the middle is the K’ómoks reserve, and then the front part of it again is DND.
"DND doesn't let K’ómoks through to their reserve, and K’ómoks doesn't let DND through to the other side."