Vaughn Palmer: Feds forgive treaty loans, but will it revive painfully slow process?

“We’ve been in this process trying to resolve this matter with both Canada and British Columbia but in doing so we’ve been put in this situation having to borrow money from the very governments who took our land in the first place.”


Minister of Finance Bill Morneau announced in the federal budget $1.4 billion to forgive loans currently owing and reimburse other bands engaged in negotiations. The remainder, almost $500 million, will be returned over five years starting in 2020. SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

VICTORIA — After accumulating hundreds of millions of dollars in debt to the federal government to finance treaty negotiations, B.C. First Nations learned this week that Ottawa is forgiving all of it.

The news came on federal budget day, with Finance Minister Bill Morneau announcing $1.4 billion to forgive loans currently owing and reimburse others that have already been repaid.

More than $900 million in outstanding loans to bands engaged in negotiations will be cancelled in the current financial year ending March 31.

The remainder, almost $500 million, will be returned over five years starting in 2020 to First Nations that have already repaid their treaty loans in whole or in part.

The money will free “more than 200 Indigenous communities to reinvest in their priorities like governance, infrastructure and economic development,” according to the budget papers.

Though Morneau did not provide a schedule of payments, the bulk of the recipients are expected to be B.C. First Nations.

One obvious beneficiary would be the Nisga’a First Nation, which concluded the first modern day treaty in B.C. The nation finished repaying an $84 million treaty loan from the federal government in May 2014 — 14 years after the treaty itself took effect. MORE

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