Snaw-naw-as First Nation Chief David Bob sits in shaded grass outside a north Nanaimo business, as cars roar by, and considers what he wants for his people, whose territory once stretched from French Creek to Pipers Lagoon.
Snaw-naw-as is one of five Te’mexw Member First Nations in the B.C. Treaty process, a journey toward self-sufficiency and government. Member nations, federal and provincial government completed an agreement-in-principle this April, bringing the parties to the fourth of a six-stage process where “serious negotiations” can begin around issues like fisheries and hunting.
That they have come this far is a reason to celebrate, especially with the province re-evaluating its stance on the treaty issue, said Bob. But there’s also cautious optimism.
Former Snaw-naw-as chief Wilson Bob started the treaty process 25 years ago. It was believed then that self-sufficiency was five years away, but leaders have seen elections and changes in negotiation teams.
David Bob hopes when the province looks into the treaty negotiations, the truth comes out – that the reason it’s taken so long is because of stonewalling by provincial and federal governments.
There’s also caution because the agreement is non-binding and it remains to be seen what is going to be negotiated.
“Are they serious or are they just playing us along?” Bob asked. “After 25 years, it’s kind of hard to say.”
For a nation like Nanoose, the goal of the treaty process is to be self-sufficient.
Snaw-naw-as want to make use of natural resources around them and be a part of decisions made within their traditional territory. The reserve is 60 hectares and that’s all they will have until the treaty is signed, according to Bob, who says it’s a battle to decide what to save for future generations and what to develop. By keeping land undeveloped, it feeds into the dependency on government for handouts and “we don’t want to do that,” he said.
His vision is to see them at 80 per cent employment instead of 80 per cent unemployment, and have the right to decide how their homes are built. With a treaty, they will finally become partners in deciding what becomes of traditional land, he said.
“We won’t have a final say – you’d be living in a dream world if you figure that’s going to happen. But we get to sit and talk, where in the past [other governments] just decided what they wanted to do and didn’t consult with us.”
In a phrase, this is about wanting to be an equal government partner. “It’s as simple as that,” he said.