Members of a small first nation in Vancouver Island's picturesque Comox Valley have taken a major step toward securing $17.5-million and more than 2,000 hectares of land under a final treaty.
The K'omoks First Nation, which has about 275 members, signed an agreement in principle Saturday with the provincial and federal governments.
An AIP is the second-to-last stage in the treaty-negotiating process and signals the start of final talks between the parties.
Of the 60 first nations participating in the treaty process, only two, the Maa-nulth, located on Vancouver Island's west coast, and the Tsawwassen, located south of Vancouver, have signed final treaties, according to the BC Treaty Commission.
"This is the first step towards a prosperous future for my people," said Chief Ernie Hardy, in a media release. "It is an historic day for the K'omoks Nation."
The agreement means that under a final treaty, the K'omoks will receive 2,043 hectares of land, including former reserves, which will be held in fee-simple status.
The nation will also receive a capital transfer of $17.5-million, but funding agreements will cover programs and services like education.
A final treaty will allow the K'omoks to write their own constitution, which will structure its government and create a process that will allow members to challenge their laws.
However, the K'omoks will still operate within the framework of the Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Federal and provincial laws will still apply to treaty-settlement lands, but the final treaty will establish which laws will prevail if there is a conflict with K'omoks laws.
After a transition period, the federal Indian Act will no longer apply, except when it comes to determining Indian status.
A final treaty will also give members the right to harvest wildlife and migratory birds for social and ceremonial purposes within the nation's harvest area.
Members will also have the right to gather plants on provincial Crown lands within the nation's harvest area.
But those rights will be subject to conservation measures as well as public health and public safety regulations.
John Duncan, federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, said a final treaty will help the nation build a better future and spark change and economic opportunities.
Mary Polak, B.C.'s Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, said the nation has a strong entrepreneurial spirit and successful business operations on Vancouver Island.
"A treaty will bring increased certainty on the land and direct economic benefits to the K'omoks people and the surrounding communities," she said.
The K'omoks are descendents of the Northern Coast Salish, Pentlatch and Kwak'wak'awa'kw people.
According to the K'omoks First Nation website, about 116 members and many non-members live on the KFN Indian Reserve No. 1. Other members live around North America.