On April 26, Robert Freeman published an article entitled “Yale treaty seen as good economic news for Fraser Canyon.” The article cited Dennis Anderson, Yale area director at the Fraser Valley Regional District and a member of the Yale Treaty Advisory Committee as saying that “the Yale Agreement would benefit everyone in the Fraser Canyon area.” Dennis Anderson is profoundly mistaken. Rather than providing greater economic certainty and social stability, the proposed treaty will result in continued and unnecessary conflict.
For thousands of years the Sto:lo have shared the resources of the Lower Fraser Canyon. If the draft treaty with the Yale First Nation is ratified by government it will unilaterally take away rights and title for all Sto:lo. The proposed treaty would result in the Sto:lo people losing historical access to important ancient fishing and cultural sites. The draft treaty would result in the Yale First Nation becoming the gatekeeper controlling access to the Fraser River Canyon, a role that previously was denied to them by the courts. The Yale Treaty would result in the outright loss of Sto:lo lands and resources fundamental to our culture.
The B.C. Treaty Process was intended to be the means of resolving outstanding rights and title issues in British Columbia. Two key principles were incorporated to accomplish that goal. To successfully negotiate treaties in British Columbia, all parties understood that the interests of third-parties were not going to be “on the table.” Given the clearly documented historical and on-going use of the Fraser Canyon by the Sto:lo, it is now clear that this principle is only being applied to non-aboriginal third-party interests. There is no other example of the B.C. or Canadian government in the B.C. Treaty Process so fundamentally disregarding the legitimate rights, title and interests of First Nations people.
The parties that established the B.C. Treaty Process clearly understood that shared territory disputes needed to be resolved prior to treaties being finalized. Yale First Nation’s treaty negotiations proceeded without addressing this requirement. As a result, Yale’s final agreement excludes the Sto:lo from resources and access that are critically important to our communities.
Now the rights, title and interests of thousands of Sto:lo are being bulldozed in the Yale Treaty by a total of only 66 (of 99) band members who voted in support of the final agreement. A decision based on this foundation is neither justifiable nor honourable. It would disgrace the Crown, whose honour is at stake. It would fly in the face of Canada’s core democratic principles.
B.C. and Canada have “washed their hands” of responsibility and claimed it is up to First Nations to resolve “their overlap dispute.” Rather than realize that the approach taken was the wrong one, these parties have now taken a stance that they are disinterested parties and that the First Nations should sort this out themselves. Unfortunately, Yale First Nation has indicated it does not intend to sort this out prior to its treaty coming into effect. The Sto:lo raised this issue in their treaty negotiations with B.C. and Canada and were advised that government will not intervene in another treaty table as this would not be “fair” to the Yale First Nation.
Citizens should also ask themselves whether the approach being taken by the government negotiators is going to succeed in providing better social and economic certainty. The Sto:lo are increasingly concerned that B.C. is pushing ahead with its new mantra, “a treaty at any cost,” and has lost sight of the underlying issues that must be resolved for the B.C. Treaty Process to succeed. The Sto:lo are concerned that if the proposed treaty proceeds without addressing this fundamental flaw, we will all be afflicted by continued uncertainty and unnecessary conflict.
The citizens of the Fraser Valley deserve better.
President, Sto:lo Nation