The MOU was made official at Sts’ailes Lhawathet Lalem last Thursday, March 19, with Chief Harvey Paul (Steq oye Kul) and FVRD Chair Sharon Gaetz signing in a ceremony steeped with Sts’ailes tradition.
“With the Memorandum of Understanding we just signed, we signed an agreement to work together on a number of things,” said Gaetz to the assembled officials.
She listed plans for growth, economic development, land use, emergency services and transit / transportation as key issues between the two groups. Gaetz was respectful of the people and the environment around her, acknowledging and paying respect to the representatives from Sts’ailes and their families as well as regional and provincial government officials in attendance.
“It’s a pleasure and an honour to stand here on sacred ground,” she remarked.
Chief Paul welcomed the delegates to his community and stated the MOU was a recognition of Sts’ailes territory, which traditionally covers roughly a quarter of the Fraser Valley Regional District including 35 ancient village sites identified surrounding Harrison and Chehalis lakes as well as Harrison and Chehalis rivers.
“It’s an assertion of the Sts’ailes territory. We’re not saying we want to kick you out of here, but to work with you,” he said at the ceremony. “And we want our fair due, even with economic development.”
He cited forestry as an example, with the current model of Sts’ailes receiving only three per cent of logging rights and the need for a new, more equitable arrangement.
By signing the MOU, both Sts’ailes and the FVRD are demonstrating a commitment to work closely together to develop an Intergovernmental Relations Protocol. Its purpose is to establish relationships and clear expectations for collaboration on issues that are of mutual interest including land use, waste management, economic development, run of the river projects, transportation, recreation sites, emergency preparedness, Regional Growth Strategy and Geographical Information Systems.
“One of the key strategic goals of the FVRD is to develop collaborative partnerships with our neighbours,” Gaetz noted in a press release. “The MOU with Sts’ailes is a significant step toward ensuring the positive and healthy growth and development of our region.”
In a later interview, Paul said this agreement connects to a Supreme Court of Canada decision handed down last week to a First Nations group, recognizing their ownership of title of land and enforcing their own laws. He sees the MOU providing a conduit for the Sts’ailes people to discuss with the FVRD development and future growth that takes place on their lands and to consider the impact and affect to his people.
In terms of economic development, there’s the potential for Sts’ailes to provide services as needed instead of the FVRD, in areas such as health care or emergency planning, for not only the Sts’ailes people but the communities surrounding the Morris Valley band as well. They are in the process of building a primary health care centre and are looking to provide service to the surrounding communities as well.
Groundwork for the signing began in 2013, through discussions with the Fraser Valley Aboriginal Relations Committee.
To honour the MOU signing, Gaetz gave Paul a carving that symbolizes the two communities coming together. Paul gave Gaetz a carved paddle, representing moving forward together and paying homage to the Sts’ailes connection to the water.
“If we all work together, paddle together, we can succeed,” said Paul.