‘Shared ownership’ is not on the table: Yale Chief

Yale First Nation Chief Robert Hope says he’s willing to talk with Sto:lo leaders to ease their concerns over the treaty that will effectively give the small band control over the lucrative Fraser Canyon fishery.

Yale First Nation Chief Robert Hope says he’s willing to talk with Sto:lo leaders to ease their concerns over the treaty that will effectively give the small band control over the lucrative Fraser Canyon fishery.

Hope said the Yale people are willing to talk about an agreement to work out access to fishing sites in the canyon claimed by some Sto:lo families, but would not consider a “shared territory” agreement as suggested by Sto:lo Nation leader Joe Hall.

“We don’t own the river, but we do own the land,” Hope said in a telephone interview Friday.

And as owners of the land, he explained, the Yale people must manage it to ensure its highest and best use.

“The way I see it, this is the very reason we entered the treaty process, to govern our land,” he said.

So, access is on the table, but shared ownership is not.

However, Sto:lo leaders say they have ample evidence to back up their claim to the land, but federal and provincial negotiators have ignored it to date.

Further, the Sto:lo claim the proposed treaty violates the B.C. treaty process and the completion of “shared territory agreements” before final settlements are signed because at that point they become constitutionally protected.

Hall also suggested in an earlier interview that it is “morally” wrong for federal and provincial negotiators to give control over the canyon and other sites sacred to 10,000 Sto:lo to the 150 members of the Yale First Nation.

Hall predicted “violence and bloodshed” during the fishing season, if no solution to the dispute is found, and that the Sto:lo would “never” accept any third-party’s control over culturally significant areas, like cemeteries and Transformer sites.

“It’s not a fight with the Yale, it’s a fight with the government,” Hall said in an interview Monday, after taking the Sto:lo case to B.C. Aboriginal Relations Minister Mary Polak.

“They’re trying to do through the back door what they couldn’t do through the front door,” he said.

The issue is not an “over-lapping” land claim, he added, but “a Sto:lo village that’s attempting to get a treaty” that gives it the ability to determine access to an area that he said “belongs to all Sto:lo.”

But Chief Hope adamantly denies the Yale people have any links to the Sto:lo, with their own distinct language and cultural practices. The Yale band was “lumped” into the Sto:lo tribe by English government officials as a matter of convenience, he says.

Hope also said Yale beach was not included in treaty talks, for the express purpose of giving the Sto:lo – and any others – access to the river.

“We purposely did not negotiate for (Yale beach), so the Sto:lo could still come up and exercise their right to fish, the right they say they have,” he said.

The federal fisheries department continues to issue licences to the Sto:lo to fish in the canyon area, he added, and “will not stop doing that, regardless of the treaty.”

But on the land, Chief Hope said the Yale intend to manage access to protect it from careless campers, and to ensure the safety of his people – and others camping in the area.

“We want to make it totally clear the Yale territory will not be a haven for bad people like thieves and drug dealers, because where there’s fish in the summertime, there’s money, and where there’s money there’s alcohol and drugs,” he said.

“You have to be able to feel safe,” he added. “You have to be able to trust the people in the next camp.”

Hope said he was disappointed by Sto:lo leaders’ talk of violence because it could send the wrong message that they condone such acts.

“They’re a desperate people, and desperate people say desperate things,” he said. “What I’m concerned about is what they may do, the violent things their leaders have mentioned.”

He also said he believes it is “silly” for Sto:lo leaders to be “using the grassroots people’s money to challenge the treaty. They could use it for a better purpose.”

After all, he said, Yale claims have been proven by 17 years of treaty negotiations with the federal and provincial governments.

Hope said he is “agreeable” to talk again with Sto:lo leaders, but felt his “best option” might be to talk to individual Sto:lo about their concerns.

“The Yale First Nation and myself, we’re agreeable to talk to Sto:lo leaders again, if not we’ll talk to grassroots people,” he said. “All they want to do is fish and look after the fish in the traditional manner.”

The treaty is expected to be approved by B.C. MLAs in a vote this week. If approved, it goes to the federal government for final approval.

rfreeman@theprogress.com