Pomp and ceremony greeted the proposed Yale First Nation treaty as it was introduced in the B.C. legislature Wednesday with tidings of great hope for a new life by children who will live under the landmark agreement.
But there was bitterness back home among Sto:lo Nation leaders who believe the treaty is a “recipe for disaster” that will only continue conflict and uncertainty in the Fraser Canyon – and at other treaty tables around the province.
Sto:lo chief Joe Hall said the provincial and federal governments are setting a “dangerous precedent” by taking Sto:lo land – fishing sites, burial grounds and religious sites – and giving it to the control of “one Indian Act band” – the Yale First Nation.
The treaty that BC MLAs will vote on in the next few weeks contains provisions for “reasonable” requests for access to these sites, but Hall asked who will decide what is reasonable?
He pointed out that the Sto:lo have had a “long and antagonistic” relationship with Yale Chief Robert Hope, who denies the Yale people have any cultural connection to the Sto:lo, and in 2008 he admitted bulldozing a cemetery in the Fraser Canyon claimed by the Sto:lo.
Hall said no matter how “congenial” the Yale chief might be, the Sto:lo would never accept a treaty that denied them access to their culture.
“The government has created a volatile situation that could ultimately result in bloodshed and violence,” he warned.
Dr. David Shaepe, a Sto:lo archeologist, said the treaty could ultimately have a ripple effect beyond B.C. boundaries as the Fraser Canyon area is being considered for a world heritage site, not just for aboriginal history, but for its record of human habitation that “you can’t find anywhere else.”
Hall said he has met with government negotiators “on several occasions” over the last two years with “boxes” of historical evidence supporting the Sto:lo point of view, but to date has received “no one single response.”
“Even worse, they haven’t provided one iota of evidence supporting their (treaty) decision,” he said.
“We’ve got to take our fight outside the treaty negotiators,” he said, and that means putting pressure on politicians to demand that a “shared territory agreement” is hammered out between the Sto:lo and the Yale before the treaty is signed.
“Treaty is supposed to bring certainty and harmony and an end to conflict,” Hall said. “This (Yale treaty) is not going to do that.”
Chilliwack MLA Barry Penner, formerly B.C. Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister, said Thursday that ministry officials are working on setting up a meeting with the Yale and the Sto:lo.
“Obviously the relationship between some of the First Nations in our area could be better and I hope this (meeting) is a positive development,” he said.
However, Penner said that when he was the aboriginal relations minister he asked ministry officials to look into the Sto:lo complaints, and they assured him the treaty is “an appropriate outcome.”
Chilliwack MLA John Les said he had not seen the treaty legislation, but his “inclination” is to support it.
He said it’s his understanding the treaty does not give the Yale “exclusive” control over canyon fishing sites.
Langley MLA Mary Polak, the current aboriginal relations minister, told The Progress on Thursday that she is “confident” the differences between the Yale and Sto:lo can be worked out, like those in the recently-signed Maa-nulth treaty.
“I’m hopeful,” she said, adding that conflicts between First Nations at treaty tables are “not unusual” and “we’ve had this experience in every treaty so far.”
The proposed Yale treaty will be the third reached under the B.C. treaty process, if approved by provincial and federal governments.
The treaty provisions include a $10.7-million capital transfer, $2.2 million in development funding, and 1,966 hectares of land owned in fee simple, comprised of 217 hectares of former Yale Indian reserves and 1,749 hectares of Crown lands. The agreement also includes self-government provisions and phase-out of tax exemptions.
Chief Hope said in a news release that the treaty “brings unprecedented economic and social opportunities to our nation as the foundation upon which we, the Yale people, will build our own government and exercise jurisdiction over our own lands.”
“Our greatest wish is for a ‘treaty-future’ for our children, and we look forward to the final phase of the process,” he said.