VANCOUVER - The razor thin margin of victory for the Sliammon First Nations treaty vote doesn't concern British Columbia's Minister of Aboriginal Relations Mary Polak, despite threats that the vote result could be facing a legal challenge.
After a controversial lead up — including a polling station blockade by opponents — 51 per cent of registered Sliammon voters ratified the treaty late Tuesday.
The agreement gives the First Nation near Powell River, B.C., $30 million and more than 8,300 hectares of land for its 1,000 members who mostly live on the Sliammon reserve on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast.
Polak said while the vote was tight, it should still be considered a satisfactory result that allows the Sliammon to start on the road to self government.
"It is the beginning of a huge move forward for the Sliammon First Nation, it will eventually result in their people being out from under the Indian Act and able to govern their own affairs," said Polak.
Under the terms of the referendum, the treaty needed the support of at least 51 per of registered voter support to go ahead.
There were 615 members registered to vote and, with 318 people approving the treaty, the margin of victory was just 10 ballots.
The narrow win has those who prevented the initial referendum from taking place with a blockade on June 16 pondering their next move.
Brandon Peters represents the group The Protectors of Sliammon Sovereignty, which stopped people from entering the polling station during the first vote and unsuccessfully attempted to get a court injunction stopping the second vote.
Peters said he is against the treaty and pointed to the threshold needed to pass the vote as an example of flaws in the process.
"To constitutionally change the rights of a group of people, other bands have required at least 70-75 per cent approval," said Peters. "We've taken a marginal approach and taken 50 plus one."
He said the group is considering a legal challenge of the referendum results based on voting irregularities, such as how voter registration was conducted.
Peters argued status-card-carrying members of the Sliammon should not have had to register, while he alleged people with only loose ties to the band were being signed up to vote.
The sovereignty group brought forward those same arguments in B.C. Supreme Court earlier in the week, but Judge John Savage ruled only federal courts had jurisdiction over such cases.
The judge also said he didn't seen evidence of voting irregularities.
After Monday's decision, Peters suggested the court ruled against the group because a precedent would have been set that could derail other treaty votes in the province.
The Kitsumkalum First Nation near Terrace and the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation near Tofino on Vancouver Island are among numerous bands with upcoming votes.
But, Polak insists the Sliammon vote was conducted fairly and said the province would deal with any challenges if they materialize.
"The result in terms of the percentage of people who voted would be one that in any municipal or provincial election we would be very pleased with," said Polak.
Peters said he wasn't surprised Polak was pleased with the outcome.
"I'd like to congratulate the government and all the non aboriginal land owners on acquiring 95 per cent of Sliammon's territory," he said sarcastically on Tuesday.
"I'd also to congratulate Canada on extinguishing the rights and title of the first people."