When Gordon Gibson and John Richards organized SFU's six-part public seminar series at the Harbour Centre campus, entitled The Referendum and Beyond: Fundamentals of Aboriginal Issues in British Columbia
, they anticipated a respectable turnout.
After all, given the province's recent release of its 16 questions for the upcoming provincial referendum on treaty negotiations, there was bound to be some interest in the issues at stake. But neither of them was prepared for the standing-room-only crowds attending the first two seminars or the keen interest in the remaining four, in March and April.
“We're absolutely delighted,” says seminar moderator Gibson, a former MLA and provincial Liberal leader, now a senior fellow in Canadian studies at the Fraser Institute. “This is a public policy issue whose time has finally come. After years of avoidance, the public now seems prepared to focus on aboriginal issues,” he says, “and that's good news.”
“We both thought the previous NDP administration got aboriginal policy wrong and it was absolutely crucial that we get it right,” adds Richards, an economist and SFU business professor. “We went about trying to work out something whereby SFU could contribute to the discussion, and these seminars are the result.”
About 250 people packed the second evening seminar Feb. 1, entitled Negotiating issues and the status of current treaty negotiations
, featuring B.C. treaty commission chair Miles Richardson, B.C. deputy minister for treaty negotiations Philip Steenkamp, and Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird.
While they differed on numerous points, the speakers agreed that the current process needs revision. Federal, provincial and First Nations negotiators have devoted eight years and spent more than $500 million on negotiations, without producing a single treaty.
Future seminars will address native Indian self-government (Mar. 7), the Nisga'a treaty, negotiated under a different arrangement (Mar. 14), urban aboriginal policy and aboriginal over-representation in the justice system (Apr. 4), and possible post-referendum futures (Apr. 18).
The SFU Canadian studies program and the faculty of arts are sponsoring the series, with support from the Council for Canadian Unity and the SFU-UBC centre for the study of government and business.
Admission is free but seating is limited and reservations are required. For more information call 604-291-5100, or check their website