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Tla'amin treaty vote rescheduled amid protest blockade

A treaty ratification vote on the Tla'amin reserve has been rescheduled for July 10, despite a continuing blockade that halted the initial vote on June 16. A dozen members of the Tla'amin (or Sliammon) band have blocked the reserve's voting station in opposition of a process a group of protesters called "undemocratic" in a press conference at the office of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs on June 21.

In a statement, the group highlighted their concerns that the province and council overseeing the vote have a vested interest in the outcome.

Chief Clint Williams maintains the group should voice their opposition by voting against the treaty rather than staging a blockade.

"I think it's important that the Sliammon have all the same democratic rights as all Canadians," he said. "Sliammon just needs to vote on this agreement and be heard, and we don't know if [the vote will be] yes or no."

Williams said a court injunction is in the works against the protesters who are still outside the Salish Centre.

Though some registered treaty voters living in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island have voted, the blockade prevents about 250 band members, around half the remaining people registered, from voting at the reserve located 11 kilometres north of Powell River, B.C. Of the more than 700 members eligible to vote, 548 are registered.

"This process was a long time in the making, and the Treaty will give us back control over our destiny and a more positive future for our People," said Vern Pielle, president of the Sliammon Treaty Society in a release today.

In opposition, protester Brandon Peters said the treaty is "unevolving" and would not allow for future land claims or rights negotiations. Though he said he would be open to another way to negotiate treaty, "I am not opposed to treaty [on principle] but this one is very limiting."

Treaty negotiations have been ongoing since 1994. An earlier version of the negotiation agreement called a "Treaty in Principle" was voted down in 2001 by a narrow two per cent margin.

Of the 60 bands in treaty negotiations with the province, seven have outlined final agreements including Tla'amin, and only two have been implemented.

If the Tla'amin treaty ratification passes the final agreement outlines it will provide 8,300 hectares of land, a path to self-governance and an approximate $30 million payment over 10 years. The transfer would in part have to pay back the government loan for the cost of two decades of negotiations, but additional service payments would also continue under the agreement.

Ariel Fournier is a freelance journalist based in Vancouver.

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