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Sliammon group unable to block treaty vote

The Sliammon band, whose reserve is located just outside Powell River, is voting today on whether to become the third First Nation to enter into a treaty agreement with B.C. The vote comes nearly a month after protesters blocked the initial vote on June 16.

An RCMP officer is present to enforce an injunction that stops the protesters from repeating last month's actions.

Justice John E.D. Savage handed down a ruling in B.C. Supreme Court yesterday denying a Sliammon group from stopping the vote. Savage upheld an injunction preventing protesters from blocking the Salish Centre where voting is taking place today and denying the group's own injunction to stop the vote based the groups' concerns over the election process.

Sliammon treaty negotiations have been ongoing since 1994. Justice Savage found there was not ample evidence to suggest that the treaty process has been flawed and should be halted. Lawyer for the chief and Treaty Society Gregory McDade argued that those in opposition to the treaty vote had sufficient time to express their views during negotiations. However, the lawyers representing the Sliammon people opposing the vote argued that there were systemic irregularities in voting practices.

The courtroom was filled with nearly 40 Sliammon band members who objected to the treaty process, and they were joined by members of the Tsawwassen and Gitxsan Nation supportive of the protesters. The group was advised by their lawyers to vote "no" on Tuesday and decide whether to take further legal action after the votes have been tallied.

As of today there are 600 people registered for the treaty vote. Sliammon people have already voted in other areas, as have pre-registered voters.

If the treaty vote passes it will provide the band with $30 million, much of which will pay for accumulated debt after 18 years of treaty negotiations, but the community will also receive additional funds for health and community services over time. In addition, the band will receive around 83,000 hectares of land and self-governance.

Of the 60 bands in negotiation with the province, two have passed final treaty agreements. This is the final voting day for the band and results should be tallied by tonight.

Ariel Fournier is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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