The Stó:lō Nation Longhouse on the Coqualeetza grounds in Chilliwack. (Jennifer Feinberg/ Chilliwack Progress file)

Six Stó:lō communities about to vote on the next step toward self-government

Stó:lō Xwexwílmexw Treaty Association (SXTA) members to vote on new constitution next month

Six Stó:lō communities are about to take the next formal step to getting out from under the Indian Act.

About 1,500 members of the Stó:lō Xwexwílmexw Treaty Association (SXTA) will be voting next month from across the Fraser Valley in Stó:lō territory on their newly drafted Shxwelméxwelh or constitution.

“If we get a ‘yes’ vote on the constitution, then we will be taking a big step towards no longer being governed by the Indian Act,” said Siyémches Chief Terry Horne, SXTA political advisor and chief negotiator, in a Oct. 6 press release.

The Indian Act of 1876 gave the federal government control over important aspects of Indigenous life, including land, resources, and education.

READ MORE: Draft constitution being considered

Chief Horne likened the treaty process to a “living tree.”

“It will adapt to changing circumstances, as policies evolve or new rights are established by the courts,” he said.

It’s based on respect and recognition, informed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) calls-to-action, and on case law.

The six SXTA communities include Áthelets/ Aitchelitz, Leq’á:mel, Sq’ewá:lxw/ Skawahlook, Sq’ewqéyl/Skowkale, Ch’iyáqtel/Tzeachten, and Yeqwyeqwí:ws/ Yeqwyeqwí:ws, all of which are located in the Fraser Valley.

If 50 per cent plus one per cent of a quorum of the members vote ‘yes’ then the six communities will establish this national governance structure and re-assume their inherent right to govern.

They’ve been hammering out the constitution in concert with leadership and the document is now being put to their community members for approval.

“The constitution itself is not a treaty,” Horne concluded. “It is an important SXTA-based initiative that factors into our readiness to take over governing ourselves. It will support our ability to develop our own government and law-making powers within the treaty process.”

It includes a structure for a new national government, but maintains the existing six villages as Indian Act bands. The new national government representing these communities will assume full law-making authority over such things as health, social services, and child and family services.

The SXTA has been negotiating a treaty with Canada and B.C. since 1995.

READ MORE: MOU signed by six chiefs

In October 2018, they signed a Memorandum of Understanding to move into Stage 5 of the B.C. treaty process. Instead of negotiating until they have a full and final settlement agreement, the SXTA took the approach that treaty can be negotiated step by step, progressively and incrementally, over time.

If 50 per cent plus one per cent of a quorum of the members vote ‘yes’ then the six communities will establish this national governance structure and re-assume their inherent right to govern. The Stó:lō people’s constitution will be known as Shxwelméxwelh, a document mapping out the Stó:lō way.

The six communities will also move to adopt a Self-Government Agreement with Canada and B.C. as a next step in their work to create a full treaty.

Voting will be on-line on Nov. 4, and ballots will be mailed out to all members shortly, with voting stations open on Nov. 13 and 14, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Government House on the Stó:lō Nation grounds, Tzeachten Social Health Building (6325 Matheson Road) and Leq’á:mel Nation grounds.

The results of the vote will be announced on November 15.

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