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Kim Baird fills a tall Order

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A few days before the ninth anniversary of the ratification of Tsawwassen First Nations’ (TFN) historic Treaty, its former Chief received the prestigious Order of British Columbia for her remarkable work in that process.

Kim Baird, 45, is known today as the architect of the first Treaty First Nation government in the province, more than doubling the size of the former Tsawwassen Indian Reserve, and winning $52 million in cash settlements and program funding for her people.

It’s a journey that began when Kim was just 20 years of age attending Kwantlen College. With an early interest in First Nation politics, she was researching the comprehensive land claim process going on in Canada and was curious to see whether TFN could come to a Treaty.

“That led me to understand the impacts of colonization and why reserves are in the situations they are poverty-wise across Canada,” recalls Kim. “So it awoke my social-political consciousness.”

In 1990, Kim approached then Chief Tony Jacobs about the idea, and he approved her research work which would become the impetus for self-governance. She ran for band council at the age of 22 and became Chief at just 28.

“Our demographics are changing so that we have a high youth profile,” says Kim, acknowledging their current Chief was just 22 when elected. “But when I ran for office I had very few people my age and the community was still quite tiny in the late eighties, early nineties.”

By the time the Treaty process was moving toward their July 25, 2007 vote, there were several other First Nations groups also working on signing an agreement with the federal government. The Lheidli T’enneh Band of Prince George voted before TFN but their members turned down the deal.

Kim says TFN was the only treaty process in the Lower Mainland, putting a giant spotlight on the tiny reserve because of its proximity to Vancouver.

“There was quite a lot of pressure on our whole team. I remember just how stressed out we were because we were under a lot of public scrutiny.”

The band was deeply concerned that settling for what appeared to be too little or too much could cause issues with other First Nations in the province, particularly others in the Lower Mainland.

Today, the Treaty has allowed TFN to explode in economic growth with construction of their own sewage treatment plant and industrial park, while allowing third party construction of a massive shopping mall.

Nearly 10 years after the fact I ask Kim whether TFN’s Treaty now represents an example for other First Nation groups to follow. The answer? Unclear.

“The thing to me when you’re talking about reconciliation with the Crown, it’s more than just about redress. It’s also about jurisdiction. Right now in B.C. The treaty process is the only one that allows First Nations self-governance.”

Kim says she’s hoping the federal government can separate the right to self-governance from needing to settle all outstanding land claims. By signing the Treaty, TFN gave up the right to traditional territories beyond their lands.

Since leaving politics in 2012, Kim started a consulting business and is currently working with First Nations as a liaison with government and industry, her primary interest being improving the lives of aboriginals.

“A lot of people view me as a bridge that can sort of help industry understand First Nations and vice versa, and government in the mix as well. It’s been interesting and I’m gratified that this province still views me as a First Nations leader even though I no longer have a political title.”

Editor’s Note — While TFN gave up outstanding legal claims on traditional territories they remain stakeholders in the consultation process of government and business developments being proposed on their traditional lands. An example of this can be seen in the consultation of Deltaport’s twinned terminal proposal on Roberts Bank.

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