Sto:lo elder Maryann Roberts and her husband Percy learned the ways of fishing from their mothers, and have always used the Five Mile Fishery along the Fraser River — a fishery which, according to band leaders, helps contribute to about 60 per cent of the Sto:lo Nation’s livelihood.
As it stands now, the Roberts, along with the rest of the Sto:lo, will be required to ask permission to fish along the choice stretch because of a government decision that has granted the Yale First Nation exclusive authority as “gatekeepers” over the Five Mile Fishery.
The Roberts were part of a group of about 30 Sto:lo people who took a chartered bus from Chilliwack to stand outside the B.C. Supreme Court Friday in support of a legal claim launched by Sto:lo leaders that rejects the government decision.
The claim, dated June 20, targets the federal and provincial governments as well as the Yale First Nation, and states the Sto:lo are seeking “a declaration that Sto:lo is the proper holder of the aboriginal rights and title in the Five Mile Fishery.”
Exclusive authority over the popular fishery was included in the Yale treaty, which was granted royal assent this week and transfers about $13 million and 2,000 hectares of land to the Yale First Nation.
The Yale First Nation consists of about 150 people, and the Sto:lo Nation of about 10,000.
Sto:lo Hereditary Chief Ken Malloway said his family has fished in the Five Mile Fishery for generations and that he will do anything to protect their access.
“We don’t want to have violence but if it happens, it happens,” he said. “If it comes down to a physical fight I’m ready to go.”
Yale Chief Robert Hope called the Sto:lo’s reaction to the treaty “silliness.”
“(The Sto:lo chiefs) have nothing to do but to talk trash,” said Hope.
“They continue to threaten violence, well then the RCMP has got to do their job… nobody can put a gate across the Fraser River.”
Sto:lo Grand Chief Joe Hall said provincial and federal governments have “forced” the Sto:lo to take the matter to the courts.
“Clearly the treaty-making process in their minds is a first to the post,” he said. “They’re unaware of the connection of the Sto:lo people to the area known as the Five Mile Fishery.”
Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad said in a statement that the Yale treaty will create jobs and opportunities for the Yale First Nation.
“These innovative agreements represent a fundamental shift in how government and first nations interact in British Columbia and are based on respect, recognition and reconciliation,” he said.
“B.C. will continue to work with First Nations to secure treaties that provide economic benefits and security for all British Columbians.”
[Editor’s note: For an in-depth look at the historical roots of B.C.’s treaty process, including the colonial obstacles to settling land claims in B.C. and the Yale Treaty specifically, check out The Tyee series “Treaty Troubles.”]