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Government calls referendum on First Nations’ treaty negotiations a success

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Local chiefs say referendum is likely to be nothing but trouble

Local First Nation’s members are not impressed by the results of the province-wide referendum on treaty negotiations.

"It is a pitifully low mandate if you claim it is a mandate," said chairman of the council of the Squamish Nation and hereditary chief Bill Williams.

"It is a resounding defeat if you look at the real numbers."

Williams is referring to the fact that only 36 per cent of the ballots mailed out were returned. The rest were spoiled or discarded.

As an example he points to the response to question one of the ballot: Private property should not be expropriated for treaty settlement.

"They say that 595,000 voted yes," he said.

"But if you take the total number of ballots sent out, the 2,127,000, and you put the 595,000 who voted yes to it, that is only 27 per cent of the people who voted yes.

"And look at other side, 72 per cent either didn’t vote, spoiled their ballot or voted no."

Williams is also concerned that it will just delay the treaty process even further, even though the Squamish Nation is not officially in the treaty process. Holding the referendum took everyone away from the negotiating table for a year, he said.

Now he fears it will take another year to interpret the mandate and get back to negotiating.

"It was just a waste," he said.

Mount Currie business development director Lyle Leo is concerned the referendum will create an adversarial atmosphere between First Nations reaching out to their neighbours to explore joint ventures.

"What concerns me is that it is going to affect relationships between society at large and aboriginal peoples," he said.

"It is coming from a public that is not fully informed of the aboriginal issues so it will again create a mindset that isn’t based on fact and the actual needs of the aboriginal community."

He is worried aboriginal concerns, which often reflect the concerns of communities in general, will be relegated to "race-based" solutions.

"The government is promoting race-based issues and that is what has me very concerned," he said.

"This is very irresponsible leadership to develop this type of mindset."

While Leo is concerned he said he has not given up hope that some good may come of this.

"All we can hope is that this government will step forward with some good will and seek positive, constructive opportunities to deal with the land issue and not use it towards creating a mindset that is adversarial to aboriginal issues."

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