Three Indigenous Nations are now being included in Columbia River Treaty negotiations after talks initially started without their presence the bargaining table between the Canadian and American governments.
Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced that the Ktunaxa Nation Council, Okanagan Nation Alliance and the Secwepemc Nation will participate as official observers.
Freeland met with leadership of the the three Indigenous Nations as well as with Katrine Conroy, the provincial minister responsible for the Columbia River Treaty, in Castlegar earlier this week.
“By working together, we will ensure that negotiations directly reflect the priorities of the Ktunaxa, Okanagan, and Secwepemc Nations – the people whose livelihoods depend on the Columbia River and who have resided on its banks for generations,” said Freeland, in a press release. “This is an historic day and demonstrates our government’s commitment to work in full partnership with Indigenous Nations.”
Last year, the three Indigenous Nations expressed disappointment at being excluded from the negotiations, blasting the federal government for the ‘massive’ impact the Columbia River Treaty has had on traditional territories.
Kathryn Teneese, the chair of the Ktunaxa Nation Council, said the inclusion of Indigenous Nation as observers in the negotiations was ‘very significant’.
“We are taking small but meaningful steps together on the road to reconciliation,” said Teneese. “In addition to the partnership with Canada and BC, the partnership we are building between the Ktunaxa, Syilx and Secwepemc Nations, as the holders of aboriginal title to the entirety of the Columbia Basin, is deeply meaningful.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the chair of the Okanaga Nation Alliance, lamented Indigenous exclusion from the initial Columbia River Treaty signed in 1964, but welcomed participation in the renegotiations.
“Canada’s unprecedented decision to include us directly in the US -Canada CRT negotiations is courageous but overdue and necessary to overcome the decades of denial and disregard,” Phillips said. “We welcome the government’s bold decision here and look forward to helping to ensure any new Treaty addresses the mistakes of the past.”
Wayne Christian, Tribal Chief of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council, said Indigenous participation is part of the path to reconciliation.
“As a representative of the Secwepemc Nation, I am pleased that the federal government has taken steps to recognize the rights of our people in the negotiation of the Columbia River Treaty through the inclusion of Indigenous Nations Observers within the negotiations,” he said.
The treaty, an agreement that went into effect in 1964, holds back 15.5 million acre-feet of water in Canada each year for flood control and power generation — an estimated dollar value of $3 billion USD.
Four hydroelectric dams were built under the agreement, which was signed between Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower. The Duncan dam, the Mica dam and the Keenleyside dam are on the Canadian side, while the Libby Dam was built in the U.S.
Conroy lauded the federal government’s decision to include Indigenous participation in the treaty negotiations.
“Indigenous Nations have already been collaborating with the governments of B.C. and Canada on negotiation positions and strategies, and now the relationship has been strengthened,” Conroy said. “This is an important and unprecedented next step in demonstrating our commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to our journey towards reconciliation.”