Sto:lo leaders flew to Ottawa from Chilliwack this week to try to stop the federal government from ratifying the Yale First Nation treaty.
The final agreement of the Yale treaty was signed in B.C. on April 13, marking the third treaty to emerge from the B.C. Treaty Process.
Once the treaty officially comes into effect, the Yale economy will finally be “kick-started” as partnerships are forged with business and tourism ventures, said Yale Chief Robert Hope.
“I really believe this place will be a better place to live,” the Yale Chief told The Progress. “It will be better for natives and non-natives; for residents and non-residents.”
He said the effective date for the treaty could be 2015.
About 80 of the 150 registered Yale members actually live in Yale, a small community north of Hope.
“The other half live in places like Chilliwack or Mission,” Hope said.
The treaty was approved by the B.C. legislature two years ago, but the Yale Treaty bill still has to be ratified in the House of Commons before it becomes law.
One of the outstanding issues for Sto:lo leaders is about access to traditional fishing camps, as well as burial grounds on a stretch of the Fraser River in the Fraser Canyon between Spuzzum and Yale.
“The fishery is of significant importance to the Sto:lo people,” said Doug Kelly of the Sto:lo Tribal Council. “It always has been, and it always will be.”
This is precisely where the Yale and Sto:lo positions are still at odds, Kelly said, and it could very well end up in court.
“If blood is shed,” Kelly was quoted in the Progress, it will be at the hands of provincial and federal government officials for ratifying the Yale treaty.
Every time the subject of fishing in the Fraser Canyon comes up publicly, the spectre of violence has been raised by Sto:lo leadership.
The two sides have been effectively at an impasse for years, unable to reach any common ground, even efforts with a professional mediator, Vince Ready, failed to produce results.
Grand Chief Kelly was in Ottawa on Tuesday, as was Sto:lo Nation head Joe Hall, trying to convince MPs not to ratify the treaty.
“If I heard (B.C. Treaty Commission chief commissioner) Sophie Pierre correctly yesterday at the Parliamentary Standing Committee then she believes that 10,000 Sto:lo hold a veto over 150 Yale,” Kelly wrote on his Facebook page. “Given that Yale borrowed funds to negotiate a treaty then Canada should ratify their treaty. Regardless of Parliament, the Sto:lo have Section 35 constitutionally protected rights.
“Apparently, it is okay with Sophie that the Sto:lo will have to beg, borrow, raise funds to fight in court for our constitutional rights.”
Sto:lo leaders say there are about 10,000 on- and off-reserve Sto:lo, and they have been asked to check in with Yale officials when entering Yale territory. Some have expressed outrage about the prospect of that requirement for the past several years.
They’re not content with the “gatekeeper” role Yale will play post-treaty, and have said they will defy RCMP or DFO officers if they have to protect what they say are constitutionally protected rights.
“When there has been a disagreement in the past between DFO and our folks, we have not been afraid to stand up for our rights,” said Kelly.
But Yale leadership defends the check-in requirement upon arrival.
“A big concern for us every summer is knowing who is on the land,” said Hope.
When people arrive at fish camp, most will make a fire. But during the hottest part of the summer, there’s increased risk of forest fire, for example. That’s part of why they need to control it, the Yale chief said.
“We’d be responsible if there was a fire and that could get very expensive.”
Sto:lo leaders have always contended Yale was historically a Sto:lo community, and they made that argument in Ottawa this week as well.
Kelly called the Yale, Sto:lo “brothers and sisters.”
The Sto:lo even sought a written agreement within the treaty that would assure them access to dry-rack fishing sites, burial grounds and other sacred sites.
But the Yale leader disagreed that his nation is part of the Sto:lo, and argued that Sto:lo communities could have had their own treaty.
“What they were proposing was right off the radar,” Hope said.
On the Yale First Nation website, the home page states that Yale is an independent nation.
“We are an independent First Nation, standing apart from both Sto:lo Nation, and the Nlakapamux,” reads a section at www.yalefirstnation.ca.
Hope has a message for Sto:lo leadership.
“Don’t hold us back. Give us some encouragement.”
The Sto:lo were assured they’d get “reasonable” access, but they argue they have constitutionally protected rights to fish, even in the canyon.
“No one can own the river,” Chief Hope underlined. “Sto:lo fishermen come up the river in their boats. So do the sport fishers. No one is going to stop them. We are not preventing them. What this treaty means is that we will no longer be looked after by Indian Affairs.”
The Yale government will govern, he said, but no one is stopping the Sto:lo from exercising their rights.
“Yale is a progressive community. We are looking straight ahead, we’re not looking back. We’re making laws, not breaking them.”
Yale officials want to counter any assertion that they will restrict people unfairly from accessing their land, underlined the chief.
“We will not be arbitrarily picking who can and cannot come onto our land,” said Hope, although he could see restrictions placed on known pedophiles, for example. “All they have to do is say hello.”
Chief Hope said the Yale have been working to forge agreements with the “grass roots” Sto:lo members rather than the leadership, and said there are only a handful of Sto:lo families who still set up fish camps in the Canyon.
“We’re looking to build these relationships.”
They’ll also be working with DFO as they manage navigable waters, but the federal fisheries officials have no jurisdiction on the land, “especially the Yale First Nation treaty land,” he points out.
But between the two levels of government, a very orderly and well managed fishery can be the results.
“I can see a good, safe fishery being managed here,” said Hope.
One of the Yale projects for safety and emergency preparedness is creating a GPS map of all the Yale fishing sites, campsites and trail system in the area.
“Sometimes there are disputes and people will call the Yale band office or RCMP. Now they would know exactly where to go because of the GPS mapping.”
“So how is the Yale treaty going to affect the whole Fraser Canyon?” he said.
“It’s going to be a much safer place to be.”