Yale First Nation is made up of a string of 16 distinct reserves that range from a settlement at Ruby Creek in the south to Sawmill Creek in the north.
The land tracts associated with those reserves are tiny, only about 1.9 per cent of the traditional territory set out in the claim of the people who make up Yale First Nation, as opposed to the five per cent average established in other First Nations agreements.
“These are actually just small fishing rock stations,” said Ken Hansen, the Chief of the Yale First Nation.
“You can’t put a house on them and you can’t expect real economic development on the land we’ve been allotted. These reserves never recognized our way of life and culture.
“We were a fishing, hunting and gathering society and never lived on a square piece of land with a line drawn around it.”
It’s one of the many reasons that, in 2016, the Yale First Nation suspended their agreement with the federal government in a move that lent a major blow to the embattled treaty process with the federal and B.C. governments.
In a four-page letter to the recently installed B.C. Attorney General, David Eby, and the minister of B.C. Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, Scott Fraser, Hansen detailed his First Nations concerns – and they are many.
But while renewed negotiations on the treaty are underway, a truly revolutionary change is happening for the Yale First Nation.
“It’s a re-invigoration of our people, an end to the corruption and the way things were run before. We have band meetings now where people actually participate and tell us what they think, without fear of repercussions. They don’t just get told what we’re going to do. They have a voice in those decisions. That’s our traditional way,” Hansen said.
He blames much of the corruption seen on reserves on the imposition of a leadership model that was never a part of First Nations culture.
“The whole concept of band office chief and council didn’t exist in a lot of cultures. If we could still govern ourselves along traditional lines we wouldn’t have corruption.
“Now the federal and provincial laws protect the corrupt chiefs and councils…all they have to do is send in a report to Indian and Northern Affairs can and say, ‘Yeah, we did this or that’ and the money just keeps flowing. But it flows to the leadership, not the membership.”
As one example of corruption, Hansen said the Yale First Nation was forced to move their offices to Hope because, despite the fact the previous band office had been built with band funds and is listed with the government as a band asset, it was built on the land owned by the former chief and his brothers.
“It was a band asset, but they charged an obscene amount of rent for its use, and would just walk in the front door and intimidate the staff,” Hansen said.
He added that the move to Hope had another goal – to improve relationships within the non-Indigenous community.
“We have barbecues and invite people in for tea and coffee and we get to know each other. It’s the only way we can ever move forward,” Hansen said.
“We have to stop pointing the finger at what has happened in the past, and start making new relationships to find a common ground to move forward into the future.”
In other initiatives, the Yale First Nation has put a food bank program in place and has emphasized new housing on Yale land to bring people back to the reserves and strengthen the communities.
Hansen has also begun to take action against known sexual predators who have, in the past, been allowed to live on the reserve, often driving young women and their children from the reserve for their own safety.
“How could I feel like the chief while there are predators living on the reserve and our vulnerable young women are too afraid to come back to the community? That isn’t going to go on, on my watch.”
Although Hansen is up for re-election next year, he insists he will not be campaigning, but rather will allow what he’s done stand on its own.
“We have a lot of partnerships with non-profits here in Hope. We have a lot of development and new and exciting things coming in the next year,” he said.
“Look, if you have housing on the ground and food in the bellies and policies that makes everyone equal so it no longer matters if you know the chief or the council or if you have a certain last name, then we have a chance to move into a great future.”