The chair of the Ktunaxa Nation Council says the interim agreement that will provide a five per cent share of downstream benefits from the Columbia River Treaty to the Ktunaxa Nation is “significant.”
“They acknowledge historical impacts to Ktunaxa rights and title, and are a step on the path of reconciliation,” said Kathryn Teneese in a statement.
The downstream benefits, also colloquially known as the Canadian Entitlement, is sold by Powerex and worth approximately $120 million annually, depending on power market prices.
The Secwépemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations have also signed similar agreements, as Indigenous nations with traditional territory in the Columbia Basin affected by the Columbia River Treaty.
The Ktunaxa Nation Council represents four first nations, which include ʔakisq̓nuk First Nation, ʔaq̓am, Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it, and Yaqan Nuʔkiy.
“Ktunaxa Nation Council, on behalf of our four member First Nations, will continue with the broader collaborative work on Columbia River Treaty renewal with our partners – Secwépemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations, plus B.C. and Canada,” Teneese said. “Ktunaxa perspectives are vital to this treaty process, and we value being at the table.”
The Columbia River Treaty is a decades-old water sharing agreement that provided terms for flood control and power generation on the Columbia River system. Ratified in 1964, it has been historically criticized for a lack of consultation with Indigenous Nations in the Columbia Basin, as it was negotiated without considering impacts on Indigenous rights, culture, economies and ways of life.
The interim agreement to share five per cent of the downstream benefits was announced by the province last week, as the Canadian and U.S. delegations continue to negotiate modern terms to update the treaty.
“We did not get here today without the many efforts of our ancestors and of those who brought Aboriginal rights and title cases before the courts,” said Troy Hunter, strategic initiative co-ordinator at Ktunaxa Nation Council.
According to Wilfred Jacobs, a late Ktunaxa elder, Kootenay is a Ktunaxa word pronounced Kuǂni, which means to travel by water.
“These agreements are a beginning, but the course we have embarked upon, as we travel together each steering our own yaqsuʔmiǂ, (canoes), is now part of our story,” said Hunter.
The Ktunaxa, Secwépemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations have been participating in the negotiations with the Canadian delegation, and have taken the lead on advocacy for enhancing ecosystem restoration and salmon reintroduction into the B.C. portion of the Columbia Basin.
As the treaty negotiations remain ongoing, talks will continue for a long-term agreement to share the downstream benefits to help address environmental, cultural and economic impacts caused by the Columbia River Treaty.
At a bilateral summit in February earlier this year, both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden pledged to “intensify their work over the coming months” towards a modernized treaty agreement, as formal negotiations have been ongoing since 2018.