After nearly 20 years in negotiations, the Yale First Nation has a treaty: an agreement with the governments of B.C. and Canada that includes land, money and fishing and forestry rights on nearly 2,000 hectares in the Fraser Valley Regional District north of Hope.
The parties involved in the agreement say it will bring certainty and economic opportunities to the Yale, a group of about 150 people who live along the Fraser River in an area where aboriginal people have fished for centuries.
But Doug Kelly, Grand Chief of the Sto:lo Tribal Council, says he and others are already considering legal action to oppose the pact, saying it could lead to clashes on the Fraser River during fishing season and was signed over repeated, long-standing concerns of the Sto:lo.
“What that treaty does is create the space for Yale – our brothers and sisters – to make arbitrary decisions about who may fish in the five-mile canyon fishery area and creates in essence a recipe for serious conflict,” Mr. Kelly said on Tuesday.
Yale Chief Robert Hope said the agreement reflects years of painstaking work and that it is irresponsible for Mr. Kelly to suggest that disagreements over access to fishing and cultural sites could result in violence.
“We want to get involved in economic development,” Mr. Hope said. “We have every right to negotiate this treaty and we did. The Sto:lo had every right but Doug Kelly and his group left the treaty table.”
The Sto:lo split into two groups about a decade ago, with the Sto:lo Tribal Council leaving the treaty process and another group, the Sto:lo Nation, staying on.
The Sto:lo and the Yale have been engaged in occasional disputes for at least a decade over land, fisheries and even a cemetery in the Fraser Canyon.
Mr. Kelly maintains those tensions will be aggravated by the Yale final agreement, especially when it comes to fishing on the Fraser River.
“That’s what we are afraid is going to cause the violence and altercations,” he said, adding that land is also a concern.
“We don’t have a problem with them [Yale] having a treaty – what we have a problem with is who has the exclusive say on access to lands that are caught up in that treaty, when we share an interest in that land.”
There are occasional disputes on the Fraser River during summer fishing season, most often disagreements between native and sport fishers. In 2009, Willie Charlie of the Chehalis Indian Band was shot in the face with a pellet gun during an altercation with sport fishermen.
The Yale final agreement, introduced in the provincial legislature in 2011, was signed by the Yale and the provincial and federal governments on April 13.
The pact provides the Yale First Nation with a capital transfer of $10.7-million as well as economic development funding of $2.2-million.
The lion’s share of the funds – about 80 per cent, Mr. Hope estimates – will be used to pay back loans the Yale spent on treaty negotiations since they entered the process in 1994.
Under the treaty, which has not been ratified by Parliament, the Yale will have the right to harvest fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes. The group will also be able to apply for commercial fishing licences.
There are 27 First Nations in treaty negotiations in B.C.