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Aboriginal Affairs

Agreement Reinvigorates Treaty Discussions with Wet'suwet'en

14/09/1998

SMITHERS - The provincial government and hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en have reached an agreement designed to address issues raised by the December 1997 Supreme Court Delgamuukw decision and reinvigorate treaty discussions, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Dale Lovick said today.

The agreement will be signed today with Wet'suwet'en chiefs in Moricetown, during a visit by Lovick to northwest B.C. this week.

"This agreement demonstrates B.C.'s commitment to address issues raised by the Delgamuukw decision through a respectful process and will hopefully pave the way for resolution through a treaty," Lovick said.

"Jobs and stable communities are fundamental to building a bright future for all of British Columbia, including its First Nations," he added. "This agreement focuses on providing human and economic development opportunities which will assist in achieving that goal."

In the Accord Between the Province of British Columbia And The Hereditary Chiefs Of The Wet'suwet'en People, both parties acknowledge the significance of the Delgamuukw decision and commit to resolving differences through negotiation rather than litigation.

The agreement includes commitments by both parties to:

-- a renewed partnership for resource planning and development, economic development, healing and the growth of healthy communities, based on the principles of recognition, respect and reconciliation;

-- continue the work of and incorporate economic development as a priority for two existing bilateral working groups (lands and resources, and human services);

-- work jointly on job training and development initiatives;

-- involve, where appropriate, local government and industry in bilateral discussions and initiatives;

-- ensure Canada fulfils its fiduciary obligations by supporting and participating in activities resulting from the agreement.

The agreement also provides for negotiation of a supporting contribution agreement that will identify the timeframe for discussions, expected outcomes and deliverables.

Litigation on Delgamuukw began in 1984 when Wet'suwet'en and Gitxsan hereditary chiefs launched a court action against Canada and B.C. to secure ownership and jurisdiction over traditional territories covering 58,000 square kilometres of land in northwestern B.C.

The Dec. 11, 1997, Supreme Court of Canada decision in Delgamuukw recognized the existence of aboriginal title in Canada - but a decision on whether the Wet'suwet'en and Gitxsan had established title in any of the territory claimed was referred back to trial. The court also sent a strong message that negotiation, not litigation, was the preferred way to resolve differences over the ownership and management of lands.

Framework agreements under the B.C. Treaty Commission process were signed with both the Wet'suwet'en and Gitxsan in July 1995. In 1996, however, treaty negotiations with both First Nations were suspended over issues such as aboriginal rights and the appeal of the Delgamuukw case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

"This agreement signals a commitment to renew discussions aimed at achieving a fair and affordable treaty settlement," Lovick said.

Following his visit to Moricetown to sign the agreement with the Wet'suwet'en, Lovick will travel north to the Hazelton area to visit K'san Village and meet with Gitxsan leaders. Discussions aimed at reaching a reconciliation agreement between the province and Gitxsan hereditary chiefs are continuing.

The full text of the agreement with the Wet'suwet'en is available on the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs Internet web site (http://www.aaf.gov.bc.ca/aaf/) or by calling toll-free (1-800-880-1022). - 30 -

For more information, contact: Peter Smith - Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs Phone: (250) 356-8750 (cell) 480-9653 Toll-free: 1-800-880-1022 Internet: http://www.aaf.gov.bc.ca/aaf/

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