Yale treaty is B.C.’s toughest test yet

Aboriginal Relations Minister Mary Polak

Aboriginal Relations Minister Mary Polak

VICTORIA – The treaty with the Yale First Nation in the Fraser Canyon was hastily approved as the B.C. legislature adjourned for the summer last week.

This treaty was by far the most significant work of the legislature session, and it may make or break the hugely expensive B.C. treaty effort. Yet it received all of four hours of debate during the abbreviated spring legislature session and will probably get little attention when it reaches the House of Commons for final approval.

A few eyebrows were raised when Chief Justice Lance Finch of the B.C. Court of Appeal entered the legislature to give royal assent to the treaty and a handful of other bills. This would normally be the duty of Lt.-Gov. Steven Point, but he was on a four-day visit to promote literacy at reserves in the Quesnel and Williams Lake area.

I’m advised by the lieutenant-governor’s staff that this trip had been scheduled for some time, and his absence had nothing to do with the treaty awaiting his signature. It is purely a coincidence that Point is a former tribal chair of the Sto:lo Nation, which sent a delegation to the legislature to protest the Yale treaty just before it was tabled.

The only substantive scrutiny of the treaty, and the only vote against it, came from independent Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson. He stressed that he supports the Yale’s right to a treaty, but detailed the Sto:lo’s objections.

Their central objection is that the 150-member Yale band is an arbitrary creation of the Indian Act, a splinter group of the larger Sto:lo Nation. The treaty formalizes the Yale’s control over key canyon fishing and rack drying sites that were vital to survival for thousands of years.

Ottawa outlawed transfer of native hereditary property rights in its notorious potlatch law of 1884, and native fish sales in 1888. This disrupted whatever order had been imposed by Sto:lo clans on the fishing sites. Some Sto:lo people were moved south to reserves in the Fraser Valley, where they were expected to abandon their traditional ways and become farmers.

Sto:lo Nation president Joe Hall put it to me this way: “I don’t want to be like Donald Trump and look at people’s birth certificates, but the Yale are a Sto:lo band. They would have been chased out of there a long time ago if they weren’t.”

In the treaty debate, Simpson put it to Aboriginal Relations Minister Mary Polak that the federal and provincial governments have resorted to a “first-past-the-post” system to force progress on treaties. He said the tiny Yale community gets a huge advantage by completing a treaty, while some Sto:lo bands remain at an early stage of negotiations and still others aren’t in treaty talks.

Polak cited a section that is now standard in modern treaties. It protects the constitutional rights of other aboriginals where a court upholds a claim to Yale territory, which they will soon own as fee-simple property.

Polak insisted the Yale treaty will ease tensions in the disputed fishing sites, where violent incidents have taken place. She argued that exclusive access to the main areas of dispute was long ago included in the Yale’s original reserves. The treaty will provide a process for temporary access by other people, native and non-native.

We will see if she is right, perhaps as early as this summer.

There are two regions of B.C. where the encroachment of European settlers led to shooting wars with aboriginal people. One was the Cariboo-Chilcotin and the other was the Fraser Canyon.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

www.twitter.com/tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

Students from W. J. Mouat Secondary hold the banner they earned for taking top spot at the recent national Let’s Talk Career competition. (Submitted photo)
Mouat Secondary in Abbotsford wins national Let’s Talk Careers competition

School among 245 across nation that competed to be named ‘Canada’s Most Informed’

Chilliwack Fire Department on scene at a house fire on Boundary Road and No. 4 Road on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (David Seltenrich/ Facebook)
Fire crews respond to house fire on border of Chilliwack and Abbotsford

Flames, dark smoke reported coming from front of house when crews arrived

Brandon Hobbs (turquoise shirt), brother of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs, gathers with other family and friends to distribute posters in Chilliwack on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Search efforts expand to Chilliwack and beyond for missing Abbotsford man

Family, friends put up posters in Chilliwack, Agassiz, Hope for missing 22-year-old Adam Hobbs

AHL president and CEO Scott Howson believes the new Abbotsford franchise is off to a strong early start. (AHL photo)
AHL president: ‘Tremendous success’ selling season ticket deposits for Abbotsford franchise

President and CEO Scott Howson optimistic about new Vancouver Canucks affiliate in Abbotsford

Stock photo by LEEROY Agency from Pixabay
Drop-in vaccination clinics slated in Abbotsford for construction workers

Among three sites in Lower Mainland holding no-appointment clinics in June and July

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

Most Read