Yale First Nation Chief Robert Hope is taking the high road in the treaty dispute with the Sto:lo and offering to back off a proposed permit system to control access to fishing sites in the Fraser Canyon claimed by Sto:lo families.
“That’s not going to be imposed right away, if at all,” he said, in a telephone interview Friday.
“It may be better to put that aside,” he added, explaining that it is just one option the Yale people are looking at to manage their lands.
Another option is direct talks with families who have traditional fishing sites in the canyon.
But the very idea of asking the Yale for permission to access fishing sites and other cultural and religious sites is a major bone of contention to the Sto:lo, who had asked the B.C. government to hold off approving the treaty until a “shared territory” agreement could be reached with the Yale.
But last week the treaty received overwhelming support in the B.C. Legislature, with all but one MLA voting to approve its terms.
The treaty now moves to the federal government for final approval, but Chief Hope said he hopes to meet with Sto:lo leaders before that happens to resolve the differences between them.
“I’m hoping between then and now to sit down with Joe Hall and others to talk in a reasonable manner and plan things out for (Sto:lo) people to come up to Yale,” he said.
Although the approval by B.C. MLAs was “a great victory for the Yale,” he said. “I’m not going to rub their noses in; I’m not going to strut around.”
“I’ll take the high road,” he said.
But Chief Joe Hall, president of the Sto:lo Nation, said the dispute isn’t with the Yale people so much as the federal and provincial governments for considering a treaty that would hand control of fishing, cultural and religious sites “sacred” to 10,000 Sto:lo to about 150 Yale people.
He insisted it’s not an overlap issue, because the Yale band is actually a Sto:lo village, a claim vehemently denied by Chief Hope.
Hall also suggested the province made a “huge mistake” approving the treaty that he said flies in the face of B.C.’s “new relationship” with aboriginal people, and Premier Christy Clark’s “families first” policy.
The approval will have an impact on treaty tables around the province, he warned.
A Sto:lo request that the proposed treaty be referred to the government’s aboriginal standing committee for review was ignored, Hall said, and the settlement “rushed” through the legislature for political reasons.
Hall said he believes the federal government will take the time to carefully review the treaty.
“They don’t feel as compelled (to quickly approve) for political reasons,” he said.
In the meantime, the Sto:lo lobbying effort in Ottawa will continue.
It’s not clear what the impact of opposition to the treaty by BC Conservative Leader John Cummins, a former MP and outspoken critic of native fisheries, will have on federal MPs, if any.
Chief Hope said Cummins’ opposition to the treaty is a concern because “he is one individual who uses the system very well, and uses it for his benefit, maybe not ours.”
But Chilliwack MLA John Les suggested Cummins’ influence in Ottawa is waning since his decision to run for leadership of the B.C. Conservatives.
Several of his MP colleagues in B.C., including Stockwell Day, are unhappy with his decision, fearing it might split the right-wing vote.
“He doesn’t seem to have the support of his former colleagues,” Les said.
Chief Hope said contrary to Cummins’ statements, the Yale do not have an “exclusive” fisheries agreement, and most provincial and federal laws will still be paramount to any future Yale legislation, which is restricted to its own land and people.
“We have very little law-making ability,” he said.
The fisheries agreement is also outside the treaty, he said, which means it does not have constitutional protection and can be amended.
But what the treaty does guarantee is the “survival” of the Yale people, said Hope, chief of the band for the past 33 years.
“We’ll be here forever,” he said. “We own the land. We own the fish. We own the mountains and we govern ourselves. No more Indian Act.”
After 17 years of negotiating a treaty, it’s approval by the B.C. Legislature was clearly a personal milestone for the chief, who recalled the standing ovation given the Yale delegation by MLAs after the vote.
“I was pretty choked up, a big lump in my throat,” Chief Hope said.
And when the MLAs cheered even louder a second time …
“Boy, what a feeling,” he said. “For the minister and the MLAs to believe what I’m doing is right.”
“I felt good for everybody in my community,” he said.