VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canada is missing an economic opportunity by not resolving long-standing aboriginal land claims on the Pacific Coast, according to a study released on Wednesday.
Treaties to settle issues such as control of mineral and logging rights would provide a C$10 billion ($9.5 billion) boost to the area’s resource economy that has been hurt by uncertainty caused by the lack of agreements, the study said.
Negotiators for the government and aboriginal groups should recognize the economic benefit of resolving claims rooted in region’s colonization, according to the British Columbia Treaty Commission, which authorized the study.
“This just makes too much sense (to ignore),” said Robert Phillips, a member of the commission that oversees the negotiations.
Each year that passes without treaties being competed cost the western Canadian province about C$1.5 billion ($1.43) in lost economic opportunity, according to the research by the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Unlike in much of the rest of Canada, British Columbia officials largely refused in the 1800s to negotiate with the region’s aboriginal people. The current treaty process did not start until the 1990s.
The province and federal governments have had talks with more than 60 different native Indian bands and councils, but the pace has been glacially slow with the first treaty taking some 15 years before finally being completed this year.
The issues being negotiated include control of resources, self-government rights and compensation for lost land.
“It seems like we’ve kind of got into a rut,” said chief treaty commissioner Sophie Pierre.
Much of the initial economic boost would come from financial settlements paid to aboriginal groups, and that will give them revenue to pursue development, the study said.
The rest of Canada would also benefit as aboriginal communities in British Columbia become self-reliant and reduce their need for federal aid, according to the researchers.
Resource companies have complained that without treaties, the uncertainty over who will eventually control mineral and logging rights makes it much more difficult to get exploration and development permits.
“To financial investors that’s a political risk,” said Laureen Whyte, vice president of the Association of Mineral Exploration in British Columbia.
Editing by Alan Elsner