The B.C. Treaty Commission (BCTC) has invalidated a referendum by the Douglas First Nation (DFN) to leave the treaty process out of concern that it did not get a "clear and binding" expression of will by its membership.
The referendum, held January 30, 2010 by the First Nation located at the north end of Harrison Lake, was meant to gauge whether members wish to continue negotiations towards a treaty under the banner of the In-SHUCK-ch Nation.
The referendum saw a minority of members come out to respond to the question, "As a member of Douglas First Nation, do you want Douglas First Nation to participate in the In-SHUCK-ch treaty process?" Out of 231 members, 67 came out to vote and 55 opted to leave In-SHUCK-ch.
Those numbers, provided to Pique in January 2010, suggest that 29 per cent of members participated in the referendum and of that minority 82 per cent voted to leave the treaty process.
The BCTC interprets those numbers differently. In the letter sent to Douglas First Nation by Commissioner Dave Haggard he said the vote did not meet the "minimal threshold" required for a final and binding decision.
"The results of the vote indicate that roughly 38 per cent of eligible DFN members participated, with approximately 31 per cent voting to withdraw from In-SHUCK-ch negotiations," he wrote.
"These numbers are estimates only, as we have not seen any report from the electoral officer, nor have we seen any information about how widely the information was distributed to the DFN membership, or whether all known eligible voters were contacted and given the opportunity to participate in the vote.
"On the face of the information we do have, the results do not meet the internal threshold set by DFN itself, as the Notice of Referendum dated December 8, 2009 states that a referendum vote was to take place to determine 'if a majority of the members of Douglas First Nation are in favour of continuing to participate in the British Columbia Treaty Process.'"
With the referendum declared invalid by the commission, the Douglas First Nation is left with a number of options. It can hold another vote that is a clearer expression of the will of its membership whether it wishes to continue in negotiations. It can also participate in the In-SHUCK-ch vote on the Final Agreement.
If it leaves In-SHUCK-ch, Douglas could be left on the hook for its portion of a $15 million loan from the federal government that it took on to participate in the process to begin with. Parties to each of the loan agreements are individual bands and the federal government, and each is responsible for their own borrowing.
That, however, is an aspect of negotiations that Douglas isn't completely sure about. In a previous interview, Douglas Chief Don Harris said that responsibility for loans falls with the In-SHUCK-ch Services Society, but he did not return calls for comment on this story.
Gerard Peters, chief negotiator for the In-SHUCK-ch Nation, said the referendum was an "underwhelming" representation of the will of Douglas membership.
"I resisted commenting at that time, but I have to tell you, it was in fact an underwhelming representation of some of the members of Douglas," he said.
"I think it's become quite clear to me that a good segment of Douglas are still interested in participating with In-SHUCK-ch in the treaty, and I have to say that the basis I use for that assessment is that Douglas members are continuing to enroll in In-SHUCK-ch, or rather, to apply for enrolment."
In-SHUCK-ch has been in negotiations since 1993, when it signed up with the N'Quatqua, Samahquam, Skatin and Douglas bands under its name. N'Quatqua withdrew from the treaty process in 1999.