A day after the Stó:Lô native group decided to convene its pointedly named War Council, members invaded a high-level native gathering to press opposition to a pending treaty by the neighbouring Yale First Nation.
Close to a hundred Stó:Lô beat drums, chanted and carried placards into the large meeting room of the First Nations Summit where B.C. treaty chief commissioner Sophie Pierre was reporting Wednesday on the state of treaty negotiations in the province.
Three grand chiefs of the Stó:Lô addressed the meeting, charging that the Yale treaty infringes on a key section of their traditional territory and warning of potential violence should the Yale try to bar them from the land.
They urged Ms. Pierre to retract her request Ottawa ratify the treaty expeditiously.
The increased pressure from the Stó:Lô in the long-running territorial dispute puts a cloud over the Yale treaty, only the third negotiated in nearly 20 years of B.C.’s treaty process and celebrated with great fanfare by the provincial government last May.
After the meeting, Stó:Lô Grand Chief Doug Kelly said their people have fished, hunted, gathered and prayed in the disputed Fraser Canyon slice of land for more than 10,000 years, and would continue those practices, despite the area’s inclusion in the Yale treaty.
The summoning of its War Council was no accident, he said, noting, however, that the Stó:Lô remain hopeful a solution can yet be reached through mediation.
“[But]if you want peace, sometimes you have to threaten war,” Mr. Kelly declared. “The War Council is an institution we use when we need it, and we need it now. It sends a very clear message to the government about how serious we are.”
“An on-the-ground strategy,” he said, is being readied to protect Stó:Lô members who wish to continue activities on the territory in question, known as the Five Mile Fishery.
“If the government of Canada is not willing to work with us, I’m very afraid there’s going to be a very violent altercation on our homelands and on the Fraser River,” Mr. Kelly said.
Stó:Lô chiefs will be in Ottawa later this month to lobby the federal government against ratifying the treaty. Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan had previously indicated the government would try to have it approved before the end of the current session, but that may now be unlikely.
Ms. Pierre defended her call for speedy ratification. “It would be very difficult for us to try to stop something that is the culmination of 18 years of discussion,” she said.
A representative of the 150-member Yale First Nation could not be reached for comment.