Negotiators from different sides are optimistic there will be a land and cash offer for K’ómoks First Nation (KFN) to consider before the year is out.
While any treaty that could result would still be a long way off, KFN treaty team member Melissa Quocksister knows people have been through this before, though she is optimistic.
“It’s something our people are used to,” she told the Record. “Reconciliation doesn’t just happen overnight.”
KFN first got involved with the process 28 years ago, but in a sense, under the Indian Act, people have been waiting for much longer. They did have an agreement-in-principle a decade ago.
For Quocksister, the process goes beyond seeing the outcomes of the negotiations for herself. The hope is to have something to show her ancestors, especially people like her grandfather who, while chief, began the process of talks almost three decades ago.
“We still have him, and we’re very lucky for that,” she said. “I would hope we would make our ancestors proud.”
The expectation is that the provincial and federal negotiators will have an offer for the K’ómoks people to consider this fall. Quocksister expects even then it will be a while before it can go before her community for a vote. There will be also be many details to work out with government negotiators.
What will happen in the meantime will be an extensive process of consultation. This includes meeting with the community as well as local governments and other decision-makers. The plan is for public events.
“We plan to hold open houses … both in person and online,” she said.
A main challenge, Quocksister added, will be the timing, particularly when partners change at senior levels of government.
“Governments shuffle, and new ministers are put in place,” she said.
In June, provincial negotiator Sarah Cavanaugh appeared before Cumberland’s council to give an overview of where the process is and what can be expected in the coming months and years. From the government vantage point, the situation has changed in terms of how they view agreements, from less like a divorce to one of a new relationship forming. She also stressed the importance of local governments, non-governmental organizations and the public.
“Our approach has really shifted over the last five, six years,” she said at the council meeting. “We really look at Reconciliation as building a new relationship with Indigenous people.”
The focus now, she added, is on coming up with long-term agreements providing self-determination and independence.
“We call them the ultra-marathons of the Reconciliation because they take so long,” she said.
An agreement will ultimately take into account many governance issues, including health, education and legal matters, but land questions will be pivotal to the process. While KFN includes some reserve land in the Sayward area, most is in the Comox Valley. Much of the land in question is privately held rather than Crown land, which can complicate the process, but Cavanaugh said they have identified parcels.
“We’ve done the best we can,” she said.
As part of the consultation process, she added, they expect to contact about 400 people with land adjacent to that being considered for a land and cash offer to KFN.