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If British Columbians ever get around to electing a new premier — by the time Ujjal Dosanjh is chosen as the NDP’s new leader next week it will have been six months since Glen Clark resigned, but it could be another six months before there’s a provincial election — one of the first orders of business for the new man in charge is going to have to be dealing honestly and constructively with First Nations. If the next government doesn’t make it a priority the First Nations themselves surely will. Gerard Peters, chief negotiator for the In-SHUCK-ch N’Quat’qua, the first First Nation into the treaty negotiation process when it was established in 1992 and one of the pace setters ever since, doesn’t anticipate any progress in his own treaty negotiations in the foreseeable future. That has partly to do with differences of opinion within the In-SHUCK-ch N’Quat’qua, but of treaty negotiations across the province he says simply: "I think things have to get hot before they get better." Roadblocks and court battles are possibilities, Peters says, because treaty negotiations across the province have been stalled for months now and there is growing frustration among First Nations that the federal and provincial governments aren’t serious about negotiating settlements. Offers of land and cash have been made to seven First Nations and all have been rejected. Some haven’t even garnered a response. While that is the more dramatic and confrontational direction aboriginal issues in B.C. may follow, the other aspect of federal and provincial governments failing to make substantial headway eight years into the treaty process is that First Nations are now starting to work collectively, rather than independently. Next week, on Valentine’s Day, the seven First Nations which have received and rejected offers will sit down and compare notes. They’ve hired an accounting firm to assist with the process and will likely come up with a unified position on matters such as repayment of loans (which have been advanced for treaty negotiations) and a formula for land/cash compensation. "We’ll also look at the Nisga’a agreement, but Nisga’a was pre-Delgamuukw so we could be short-changing ourselves (by using the Nisga’a deal as a measure)," Peters says. In other words, the collective heal dragging of the federal and provincial governments, not to mention society in general, on treaty matters has upped the ante — not only in the minds of many First Nations but perhaps more importantly in the eyes of the courts. And treaties have to be negotiated settlements. Despite the rhetoric from some quarters, there isn’t going to be any take-it-or-leave-it offers; the Delgamuukw decision, as well as the Marshall decision, have insured that First Nations’ claims have to be seriously considered in all future land use decisions. British Columbia has to come to grips with this issue. The next elected premier of B.C., whoever that may be, will face a number of issues that need to be addressed earnestly and quickly. If getting treaty negotiations back on track aren’t high on that list there will likely be some type of alternative action to get the premier’s attention.

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