Yale treaty signed over Sto:lo concerns about the Fraser Canyon

The final agreement of the Yale First Nation Treaty was quietly inked on April 13

The Yale Treaty final agreement was quietly inked on April 13, becoming the third tripartite agreement to come out of the B.C. treaty process.

The final agreement means Yale First Nation will own about 1,966 hectares of treaty lands, including 217 hectares of its former Indian reserves and 1,749 hectares of provincial Crown lands.

Yale will also get $10.7 million from Canada, less any outstanding negotiation loans, and economic development funding of $2.2 million.

The many stages of the treaty process proceeded over almost two decades, but did not solve specific concerns of the Sto:lo people around access to traditional fishing and sacred sites in the Fraser Canyon.

Doug Kelly of the Sto:lo Tribal Council says the B.C. Liberals “declared war on the Sto:lo” by moving ahead with the Yale Treaty in this way.

“This treaty is deeply flawed. Instead of achieving certainty, creating economic opportunity, and establishing a new relationship with First Nations, this treaty will result in confrontations between the Sto:lo and DFO Fisheries officers and RCMP officers.”

But that’s not at all how the signees are depicting the treaty signing achievement reached by all the parties.

“This marks an historic step towards achieving a treaty for Yale First Nation,” said Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt in the release that went online April 13.

The federal government will continue to work on treaties, which will “contribute to increased economic activity that will benefit not just the First Nation, but British Columbia and, ultimately, Canada.”

“This historic undertaking marks another success story in the reconciliation process and will provide Yale First Nation members with a solid foundation upon which to build a sustainable economy,” said Ida Chong, B.C. Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.

“Through years of perseverance and hard work with Canada and the Province, we have now achieved the Yale Treaty,” said Chief Hope. “We look forward to determining our own destiny through self-government.”

The treaty provides for Yale First Nation ownership of subsurface and forest resources, as well as fishing, gathering and harvesting rights for domestic purposes, in accordance with terms set out in the treaty. Access to commercial fishing opportunities for Fraser River sockeye and pink salmon by the First Nation are dealt with outside of the treaty in a separate Harvest Agreement.

However under the treaty that was just signed the Sto:lo have said the concern is that they will:

•    Lose the ability to exercise their rights and title to lands in the canyon;

•    Be considered trespassers;

•    Lose the tradition of passing down ancestral fishing and dry rack sites in the canyon to next generations; and

•    Require permission from Yale to access sacred heritage sites and conduct cultural practices.

Sto:lo Tribal Council and Stolo Nation Chiefs’ Council worked very closely together to reach a resolution through negotiations, and they continue to work cooperatively.

“Sadly, the Chief Negotiators for Canada and B.C. have dismissed the Stolo and set us on this course that will result in violence,” said Kelly. “Why would a government wobbling on weary legs declare war on the Stolo?”

Sto:lo leaders are planning in earnest what to do next.

“We will work together to exercise our rights on our homelands. No government, federal, provincial or local will prevent us from carrying on the ways of our ancestors,” stated Kelly.

“We will not be intimidated by enforcement officers. If blood is shed, it is at the hands of the Government of Canada and the Province of BC.”

Two of the candidates running for MLA in the Chilliwack-Hope riding had something to say.

NDP candidate Gwen O’Mahony said while she understands the Yale Treaty is a done deal, she is nonetheless “troubled” by some aspects of it.

“I think it’s unfortunate that this has resulted in divisions. I’m concerned about my community.”

Pointed questions were asked in the Legislature about these significant issues that concerned the Sto:lo around access in the canyon.

“The idea around treaty is not to create division; or winners and losers. It’s supposed to be about reconciliation and building unity and it’s tragic if it creates the opposite. It should be respectful. It should not pit communities against each other.

“While we support the Yale people, as they’ve been at the table negotiating this is good faith, we also think that conflict resolution must be a key part of this.”

Laurie Throness, B.C. Liberal candidate for Chilliwack-Hope, said he supports the B.C. treaty process between First Nations, and the federal and provincial governments, because it allows for “certainty and economic opportunities” for First Nations.

“That process should continue. It’s an important process,” he added.

However this unresolved situation could “end up in court,” Throness said.

“Neither the Sto:lo, nor the Yale First Nation are going away. They need to come to an agreement.”

Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl said the Yale followed the treaty process as laid out and went through all the steps as required.

“It’s a good news story for the Yale First Nation,” he told The Progress over the phone. “They are hopeful for economic development in their area, and I hope it will allow them to gain that economic prosperity for their people that they’ve been working toward.

“After 20 years of negotiating this treaty, I’m sure they are relieved that the end is in sight.”

On the question of Sto:lo access issues, Strahl said he met with Grand Chief Joe Hall to hear their concerns, and they also met with mediator Vince Ready, and they’ve been told they will have “reasonable” access, even though they didn’t get it in writing.

“At the end of the day, the mediator said there is no hope of a negotiated settlement on this. Once that happened the decision was made to proceed,” he said.

On the subject of how the press release went out online and very quietly, Strahl said he wasn’t surprised given some of the threats about violence rumbling out there. The signing was kept low-key and the information only released online.

It’s unfortunate that there is still disagreement and he hopes cooler heads prevail, said the MP.

“I hope they can work out an on-the-ground solution. There is opportunity for cooperation. I hope they will reach for that common ground and practical solutions, rather than heated rhetoric.”