No treaty needed to pluck ‘low-hanging fruit’

The Chehalis First Nation finds ways to benefit without going through the lengthy treaty process.

An agreement outside the treaty process lets the Sts’ailes (Chehalis) First Nation reach “low-hanging fruit” on its way to building an independent nation, says Chief Willie Charlie.

The band is not in the treaty process, but earlier this month signed a memorandum of understanding with the B.C. government that recognizes Sts’ailes traditional territory and the right to manage its land and resources — items other First Nations are still negotiating at the treaty table.

“The treaty process hasn’t been that successful,” Charlie said. “We won’t have to wait ten years for a mutually beneficial agreement.”

“We’ve reached some of the low-hanging fruit,” he said. “This is not the end, this is a step towards meaningful agreements between us and the province.”

The Sto:lo Nation is one of those still at the treaty table, but SN president Chief Joe Hall said he applauded the Sts’ailes agreement.

Such agreements are “challenging” to First Nations still in treaty talks, he agreed, but the “key difference” is the constitutional protection guaranteed by treaty.

Agreements outside treaty are vulnerable to changes in government and other external factors, he said.

B.C. Aboriginal Relations Minister Mary Polak and B.C. Treaty Commission officials were not available for comment on the impact of the agreements on the B.C. treaty process.

Polak said in an email to The Progress that the Sts’ailes agreement is an “incremental approach” that sets “achievable goals that will build momentum” toward a government-to-government relationship.

“Chief Charlie has expressed an interest in an agreement like this since 2009, so we’re very happy to have achieved this MOU,” she said.

Ministry officials from the various ministries involved signed the MOU so they will have detailed knowledge of the services covered, rather than following terms of an agreement signed by politicians in distant Victoria.

The Sts’ailes agreement covers areas like child and family services and health care, as well as more traditional areas like consultation and economic development.

Chief Charlie said the MOU provides “certainty for us, certainty for the Province, and certainty for businesses wishing to work in our territory — and all through a streamlined process.”

Ministry staff said such agreements are not intended to replace treaty-making in B.C., and the Sts’ailes MOU is “unique” to the needs of that First Nation.

“There are many paths to reconciliation and the Province has developed a range of tools that allows us to be flexible in our approach,” staff said in an email. “This MOU with Sts’ailes is another example of this approach.”

rfreeman@theprogress.com

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