The dispute between the Sto:lo and Yale First Nations over a treaty that’s now at the federal government for final ratification can be resolved peacefully, says Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl.
“I hope both sides will take a step back and continue to participate in the process in a peaceful manner,” he said.
Last week, leaders of the Sto:lo Nation and Sto:lo Tribal Council put aside their political differences and joined forces to demonstrate their mutual dissatisfaction with the Yale treaty at a meeting of the First Nations Summit attended by BC Treaty Commissioners.
Strahl, who has met with leaders from both sides of the dispute, said he supports the Yale treaty “in principle.”
He said there is “unprecedented” language in the treaty that guarantees the Sto:lo “reasonable access” to traditional fishing sites in the Fraser Canyon and to their sacred cultural sites, which are at the centre of the dispute.
“It’s unprecedented that a First Nation negotiated a treaty and then modified it in favour of another group,” he said. “The Yale cannot deny reasonable access to the Sto:lo or to any other group.”
Linda Duncan, NDP aboriginal affairs critic, said she has also met with the Sto:lo and Yale leaders, but she wouldn’t give her opinion of the treaty, which hasn’t yet come before MPs in Ottawa.
“I’m not going to state any opinion,” she said, “but what’s becoming clear is the government should be stepping up to the plate to find a neutral mechanism” to resolve the dispute.
“The sad thing is it looks like the government has this pattern … where they just sort of abandon First Nations with overlapping claims,” she said. “This (Yale/Sto:lo dispute) isn’t the only one we’re seeing.”
The Sto:lo also dispute Yale’s claim to be a separate and distinct tribal group, and should therefore have no right to make treaty that involves Sto:lo aboriginal rights and title in their traditional territory.
Particularly stinging to the Sto:lo is the apparent permission they need to get from the Yale chief to access sacred cultural sites and family fishing spots.
The level of mistrust between the two sides is palpable and has led to violent confrontations in the past at dry rack fishing sites and at a Sto:lo cemetery.
BC Treaty Commission spokesman Brian Mitchell said “several efforts” have been made to bring the two sides together “without any real success to date,” but those efforts will continue.
The commission has used other means of resolving overlapping claims, he said, including funding “experts” to mediate agreements and in some cases asking native elders to resolve differences using traditional laws and protocols.
But he said the commission won’t hold back a First Nation that’s on the verge of finalizing a treaty. The Yale have been in treaty talks for 18 years.
Duncan said it’s her “impression” that the federal government has an obligation to First Nations to ensure that any overlapping claims are settled before a draft treaty is concluded.
“That would be my impression,” she said.
But the “bigger issue” is the federal government is “not living up to the treaties they’ve already signed,” she charged.
According to the Land Claims Agreements Coalition, the federal government is “fulfilling neither its agreements in full under these (treaty) agreements, nor their spirit and intent.”
The Inuit of Nunavut is suing the federal government for $1 billion related to “failures to implement fully the 1993 Nunavut Land Claims Agreement,” the coalition said.