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Saulteau's agreement with B.C. a 'huge milestone'

Reconciliation deal will see nation get a 'fair share' of resource revenues
Saulteau Chief Nathan Parenteau signs a New Relationship and Reconciliation agreement as aboriginal affairs minister John Rustad and forests minister Steve Thomson look on. The agreement will give Saulteau a portion of resource revenues on their traditional territories.

The chief of Saulteau First Nations says newly signed natural resource and reconciliation deals with the province are the biggest thing since Treaty 8. 

On Sunday, the nations celebrated the signing of New Relationship and Reconciliation agreements in a ceremony attended by three provincial ministers.

"It's a huge milestone in our nation's history and the province's history," said Chief Nathan Parenteau. "It's our next biggest agreement, the only bigger one would be the treaties in 1914. This is another step down that path."

The sweeping agreements will give Saulteau greater say over natural gas, coal and forestry developments in the nations' traditional territory, centred around Moberly Lake. Saulteau is the largest of the B.C. Treaty 8 nations, with 1,000 members. 

It's the first such agreement signed with a Treaty 8 nation, and the government hopes it will be a model for other aboriginal groups in northeast B.C. 

"We're looking to advance the type of agreement we have here (with other Treaty 8 nations)," said John Rustad, minister of aboriginal relations and reconciliation.

"We're able to showcase the type of agreement we've been able to reach with the Saulteau. Other nations will have an opportunity to look at that and say whether they'd like to be part of it or not."

The agreements set out a framework for compensating the nation for resource development in its territories, through revenue and benefit sharing agreements.

It also gives them a greater role in "wildlife stewardship, forest licence opportunities, watershed planning and management of other areas," according to a release. It will also see the expansion of the Klin-se-za protected area.

Negotiations on the new relationship agreement began in 2007. The program is aimed at "closing the socio-economic gaps that separate Aboriginal people from other British Columbians," according to the ministry.

The agreements were officially signed Sept. 25.

Parenteau said money from revenue sharing agreements would go towards cultural services, as well as other programs.

That could include language immersion programs for the nation's 160 school-aged children, in Cree and Dene languages.

He said getting a "fair share of the resources on the land" would go "directly towards rebuilding the culture that was essentially lost and assimilated over the last 100 years."

He said there are also plans to restore an old hunting cabin for use as a drug and alcohol treatment centre.

Education minister Mike Bernier and forests minister Steve Thomson also attended Sunday's ceremony.