K'omoks Band members vote to move forward toward treaty

Members of the K'ómoks First Nation have voted in favour of an agreement in principle, the fourth and most critical stage of the six-stage process as the band moves towards negotiating a final treaty.

The final tally was 101-35 to approve a draft of the non-legally-binding document. The Saturday vote involved on and off-reserve members.

Chief Ernie Hardy and council will consult with the community to plan the next steps for final treaty negotiations, and to ensure the best possible deal for the band.

Before Saturday's vote, Hardy repeatedly stated his support for the AIP, which offers the K'ómoks people $17.5 million and about 5,000 acres of land, including the return of the tip of Goose Spit where the question of access had stalled negotiations. The tip of the spit is reserve land and there's a Department of National Defence military training site — HMCS Quadra — before it, which means First Nations people have been required to identify themselves to security guards if they wish to access the area.

Under a final treaty, KFN would become self-governing and an important manager of fresh water in the Comox Valley.

“The AIP is a major step towards a final treaty, a way for us to break free from the Indian Act," Hardy said in a news release. “We want to be clear: this is not for our generation. It is for our young people — so they can flourish.

"After treaty, we will be in the driver’s seat. The successful completion of the AIP is a major step toward exercising control over our own affairs and ensuring certainty in the region."

But to finalize a deal, Hardy said Canada and the province "must be prepared to come back to the table with more assets — more land, more cash, more timber and more fish.”

The KFN and senior levels of government need to initial the AIP before negotiating a legally-binding treaty.

Comox Valley MLA/Agriculture Minister Don McRae said Saturday's vote is an "historic moment" for the KFN and all B.C. citizens.

The province says improved opportunities for the KFN could positively affect the broader community in terms of economic opportunities.

"They certainly did a lot of work to overcome some of the key issues, especially around the Goose Spit issue and access for their reserve on Goose Spit," Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister Mary Polak said. "This is a hugely important first step."

She could not give a time estimate as to when the treaty will be finalized.

Polak credits Vancouver Island North MLA/Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan for being a "tremendous ally" throughout the process.

"It's encouraging to have a minister at the federal level who's so actively engaged, especially when it's his community. He really went to bat to make this happen."

She said Duncan's work on the DND issue was especially important.

"I don't think we would have had that agreement from Department of National Defence if it hadn't been for his work."

She said the two sides will work out the finer details about providing identification at the gate.

"To the extent that the KFN were upset at the current state of affairs, we understand there's satisfaction now with the way in which they've resolved that with DND," Polak said.

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