A message of solidarity went out from the Sto:lo people this week to say that the Yale Treaty will not work for them.
The treaty as ratified by provincial reps, could lead to an “unprecedented” level of conflict in the Fraser Canyon over fishing rights and heritage sites, warned Sto:lo leaders in a joint press release.
Sto:lo of all political stripes boarded a chartered bus in Chilliwack, and headed to a protest in North Van early Wednesday morning to protect rights they say they’ve had “since time immemorial.”
Protestors were asked to wear red t-shirts and bring their drums, and a Sto:lo War Council has been called into action.
The disagreement stems from a declaration by the Yale First Nation that its members are distinct from the Sto:lo and therefore have a right to sign a separate treaty for lands they claim in the Fraser Canyon. The Sto:lo dispute that, arguing the Yale cannot claim ownership of lands traditional held and never surrendered by the Sto:lo.
The Wednesday morning protest was meant to send a “clear message” about Sto:lo unity to B.C. Treaty Commission Members attending the First Nations Summit meeting in North Vancouver, said Sto:lo Grand Chief Joe Hall, president of Sto:lo Nation.
“We feel in some ways the government is saying that there isn’t a groundswell of support from the people on this, just the politicians,” Hall told The Progress. “They seem to think there is a division among the Sto:lo, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.”
A meeting was held at Chawathil First Nation this week where a Sto:lo war council was demanded by angry community members.
Tribal chief Tyrone McNeil of the Sto:lo Tribal Council said the people have asked the two tribal organizations “to kick into gear” the Sto:lo War Council, headed by Grand Chief Ron John to flesh out a strategy to defend Sto:lo rights.
“It’s always been our hope to avert that,” Hall noted. “But it’s more than rumour now. It’s preparation and planning.”
He underlined that Sto:lo reps followed steps laid out in the the treaty process “to the letter of the law” and stated early on in the process that they had grave concerns about their rights in the canyon being forfeited under the treaty.
The canyon is a “very important” corridor for the Sto:lo.
“We have people in our community that are very protective of our culture and practices, they have said they won’t let a piece of paper stand in the way of them exercising their rights,” Hall said.
“So it’s very important that this is not ram-rodded through to give them another treaty notch on their belt, and that we try to resolve this before it’s too late. All the government has to do is hit the pause button. They’ve done it before and can do it again.”