The rejection of a treaty by the Douglas First Nation could throw the whole agreement into disarray.
That, at least, is the indication one gets from an information flyer circulated by the In-SHUCK-ch Nation, the umbrella nation under which the Douglas, Skatin and Samahquam First Nations have been negotiating a treaty since 1993.
The flyer, dated August 2010, was published seven months after Douglas held a referendum, on Jan. 30, indicating that it no longer wanted to be a part of the treaty, which would establish all three bands as a single, self-governing entity outside the confines of the Indian Act, which administers matters on First Nation reserves.
The flyer addresses various concerns that Douglas First Nation has with the process - among other things, the weight the band has in a vote for ratification, as well as ownership of their reserve land after a treaty is approved. It also states that the First Nation's assets and business interests will remain in its possession after treaty.
All of these assurances are proposed as amendments to the treaty. And without approval, all the work of the In-SHUCK-ch Nation since 1993 will be lost. So too will a capital transfer of $34.7 million and 15,016 hectares of Crown land.
The Douglas First Nation, for its part, is not budging, if Chief Don Harris is to be believed. Asked in a phone interview Friday whether the First Nation will consider re-joining the treaty, he flatly said "no."
"A majority of our members have strongly opposed it," he said. "We have an 80 per cent vote saying no. I don't know that they talked about the issues we addressed, our concerns are not fully addressed."
Out of 231 registered Douglas members, 67 came out to vote, and of those 55 voted to leave the treaty process - about 82 per cent of votes cast and 24 per cent of the total membership. Douglas Chief and Council are taking that as a clear signal to depart the process.
Prior to the referendum the Douglas First Nation detailed a host of concerns it has with the treaty process. One of the central concerns is what would happen to profits from six run-of-river projects that have been built by Cloudworks Energy within its traditional territory. Douglas has a partnership with Cloudworks that provides it with a share of the company's gross revenues (not profits) for the next 60 years.
A treaty information package from December 2009 demonstrates Douglas's concern that the First Nation will cease to exist and that its profits will then transfer to the In-SHUCK-ch Nation. On the recommendation of members, the Douglas First Nation wants those assets to remain with them post-treaty and is not convinced they will stay with them if they join the In-SHUCK-ch Nation.
Gerard Peters, the chief negotiator for the In-SHUCK-ch Nation, said in an interview last week that the B.C. Treaty Commission, which oversees treaty negotiations through its own process, is preparing a letter that challenges the Douglas referendum.
"The BCTC in fact is talking about sending the Douglas council, chief and council, a letter saying that in their view the Jan. 30 vote is without foundation," he said. "I'm just talking to the commission about it.
"It's nothing that the commission has done yet, but that's what they're talking about doing."
The commission, for its part, denies it is challenging the validity of the vote but Brian Mitchell, the BCTC's communications manager, told Pique that it is giving Douglas an opportunity to speak to their membership again about participation in treaty.
"I would say the BCTC is writing a letter to Douglas," he said. "Basically In-SHUCK-ch is moving ahead, a decision has to be made about whether Douglas is going with In-SHUCK-ch or not. This is an opportunity for Douglas to have this conversation again with its membership, give them the full information about the treaty and see if they want to go ahead."