Yale treaty ratified despite protests

Yale First Nation chief Robert Hope presents a picture from his Fraser Canyon community to former premier Gordon Campbell in 2008

VICTORIA – The B.C. government has ratified a treaty with the Yale First Nation, granting ownership of disputed fishing territories in the Fraser Canyon to the 150-member community over the protests of the neighbouring Sto:lo Nation.

Sto:lo representatives came to the legislature last week to warn of conflict over the fishing sites, which become part of the fee-simple property owned by the Yale once the federal government ratifies the treaty. The treaty also transfers forest and mineral rights and about $12 million in compensation.

Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson cast the lone vote against the treaty, emphasizing he was not opposed to the right of Yale and other aboriginal communities to settle treaties. He had two objections, one of which was the few hours allowed in the legislature to debate a treaty that runs to nearly 500 pages.

Simpson’s other objection was to the decision by the federal and provincial governments to proceed with the Yale treaty despite a detailed claim by the Sto:lo Nation to the canyon fishing and rack drying sites that have been used for thousands of years. Governments have set up a “race to the table” where aboriginal groups with overlapping claims can get an advantage by signing a treaty first, and that leaves the neighbouring groups to battle over the treaty in court, Simpson said.

Aboriginal Relations Minister Mary Polak said the disputed canyon areas were already designated as Yale territory by the establishment of reserves under the Indian Act a century ago. The treaty provides for temporary access by the public and Sto:lo members, so it improves on the existing situation, she said.

The Sto:lo are offended by the Yale treaty partly because their people were moved from the canyon to reserves in the lower Fraser Valley in the early 20th century. Governments of the day expected aboriginal people to abandon their traditional ways and learn to farm, but Sto:lo people continued to travel up the canyon to fish for salmon.

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom voted against the Tsawwassen and Maa-Nulth treaties in recent years as a backbench MLA for Peace River South. Lekstrom voted for the Yale treaty, explaining beforehand that it was his duty as a cabinet minister to support the B.C. Liberal government.

His earlier objections to special rights for aboriginal people remain, Lekstrom said.