Yale First Nation puts hold on treaty implementation
Statement cites ‘flaws’ that cannot be solved within treaty process
B.C.’s troubled treaty process has been dealt another major blow with the announcement Thursday by a tiny First Nation along the Fraser River that it is suspending implementation of its agreement.
The Yale First Nation is one of a handful of First Nations to complete negotiations with the federal and B.C. governments since the costly process began in 1992.
Yale Chief Ken Hansen, who in a December interview said he was hopeful of a renewed relationship with Ottawa following Justin Trudeau’s election win, was not available Thursday.
But the chief and his council issued a terse statement Thursday saying the deal won’t be implemented.
“The Yale final agreement has critical flaws that cannot be resolved within the current B.C. treaty process,” the statement said. “We want to look ahead to how we can meet the real, pressing needs of our people, in a relationship of mutual cooperation and respect.”
B.C. Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad confirmed that the Yale won’t meet their April 2016 target date.
He said the delay is related to an dispute with the much larger Sto:lo First Nation over fishing rights in the Fraser Canyon.
“What they’ve said to me is they felt they wanted to be able to work out and reach more closely with the Sto:lo. So we’re trying to figure out what does that mean? How do we actually do this? Because we’ve never actually had anybody that’s gone down this route now after everything has been ratified.”
Rustad expressed disappointment. “When you see the benefits First Nations have experienced in treaty, its huge,” he said in an interview. “All the nations that have entered into treaty have significantly progressed in terms of what they have been able to do for their culture and people, (and) for their … economy.”
The minister said it’s “unfortunate” the Yale are pulling away but said his officials will continue to work with them to reach the implementation stage.
Sto:lo Tribal Council Grand Chief Doug Kelly praised the decision, saying Hansen’s leadership after replacing former chief Bob Hope has led to positive and “respectful” talks with the Sto:lo.
While more than 100 B.C. “bands” under the Indian Act are involved in the treaty process, only three treaties have been implemented — involving the Tsawwassen First Nation in the Lower Mainland, the Maa-nulth group of First Nations on Vancouver Island, and — in negotiations that took place outside the formal treaty process — the Nisga’a Nation in northwestern B.C.
The Yale and Tla’amin First Nations are listed in the B.C. Treaty Commission’s 2015 annual report as the only two that have been ratified but not implemented. The Tla’amin deal, in the Powell River area, is to be implemented in April.
The process has been enormously costly. Since negotiations began in 1993 the commission has distributed $656 million in funding, of which $515 million was in loans and the rest in grants, to First Nations.
The loans come from the federal government, while Ottawa covers 60 per cent of the grants and B.C. is responsible for the remaining 40 per cent.
That total doesn’t include all the costs absorbed by the federal and provincial governments.
The Yale entered the treaty process in 1994, struck an agreement-in-principle in 2006 and completed a final agreement in 2013. Both the federal and B.C. legislatures passed enabling legislation.
The treaty with the Yale First Nation included these elements:
• 1,966 hectares of land, including sub-surface rights, made up of 1,749 hectares of Crown land added to 217 hectares of reserve land.
• A $10.7 million transfer once the agreement took effect, less about $7.8 million lent to Yale to cover negotiating costs.
That debt to the federal government totalled $7.8 million, according to the Yale 2014-15 financial statement.
• $700,000 in annual funding, of which $125,000 was to be provided by Victoria and the rest by Ottawa, to fund “programs and services related to social development, education, local programs and services, physical works, and a community development officer.”
• An additional $1.4 million in one-time funding, plus roughly $600,000 in annual funding, was to be provided “to support incremental implementation and governance activities such as lands and resource management, governance and treaty management, fisheries management, culture and heritage management, and migratory birds management,” according to a federal government statement in 2013. “Yale First Nation will contribute to the funding of agreed-upon programs and services from its own sources of revenue.”
• The deal also included extensive fishing rights on their privately-held land, with the caveat that the Yale had agreed to “allow reasonable public access to all lands for temporary recreational uses and temporary non-commercial purposes. This will include reasonable opportunities to hunt and fish, as well as First Nations’ traditional purposes.”