British Columbia

B.C. treaty riles aboriginal neighbours

As the Yale First Nation celebrates the final few steps in ratifying a modern treaty decades in the making, a much older dispute threatens to overshadow it with the potential for violence.

As the Yale First Nation celebrates the final few steps in ratifying a modern treaty decades in the making, a much older dispute threatens to overshadow it with the potential for violence.

Sophie Pierre, the province's chief treaty commissioner, has called on the Yale and its neighbours — the Sto:lo Nation — to engage in non-violent talks outside the treaty to settle a dispute over historic salmon fishing sites in B.C.'s Fraser Canyon.

The Sto:lo say the Yale land-claims deal gives Yale aboriginals exclusive domain over the sites.

"Quite frankly, that doesn't fly," said Sto:lo Nation president Joe Hall, who was at the B.C. legislature last week asking the provincial government to stall passage of the treaty.

"That's the proposal, that the Yale would become the gatekeeper for territory traditionally owned by the Sto:lo … We can't understand why there's a rush to push the treaty through in the wrong fashion."

The Yale treaty will become the third successful modern treaty under B.C.'s treaty negotiation process, introduced in 1991.

Most of the province's more than 200 aboriginal First Nations are without treaties, with only about two-dozen dating back to the province's colonial era in the mid 1800s.

The treaty deal gives the 150-member First Nation — located about 175 kilometres north of Vancouver — self-government rights, about $13 million and ownership of almost 2,000 hectares.

Blown out of proportion

Yale adviser Jim Wild said the band is reviewing its permitting options, but wants to cool down any speculation that it has plans to limit or shut down the fishery.

Most people fishing on the river wouldn't need a permit because boats would likely be launched from the nearby provincial government site, said Wild.

But the Yale will consider asking people who camp on their land to apply for permits and that could include aboriginals who set up racks to dry salmon caught in the Fraser River, he said.

The band doesn't expect permits would be issued for at least another two years.

"People tend to blow this out of proportion," Wild said. "It makes a warm situation hotter."

Pierre, who called on B.C. and Ottawa to quickly ratify the deal, attended the ceremony but did not mention the dispute with the Sto:lo directly, saying instead there are outstanding issues with neighbours that the Yale must negotiate.

Pierre said the Yale and Sto:lo need to embark on negotiations that do not involve an expensive court process, which will almost inevitably result in courts telling the two sides to sort out their differences.

Mary Polak, B.C.'s minister of aboriginal relations, said she met with the Sto:lo and assured them they will continue to have access to the Fraser Canyon fishing sites.

She agreed the Sto:lo were not completely satisfied with the meeting, but said of the 203 First Nations in British Columbia, only one is not involved in a land dispute with another First Nation.

"We want to ensure that they [Sto:lo] continue to have access to their places for fishing, for drying their food, for camps," said Polak. "We're committed to ensuring that their rights are not extinguished in any way."

The B.C. and federal governments must still ratify the treaty.

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