It’s an agreement 20 years in the making.
Leaders from six Sto:lo communities across the Fraser Valley signed an MOU agreement Saturday with provincial and federal reps that was focused on inherent rights and paves the way to a final treaty settlement.
“Our goal has been to get out from under the Indian Act and to assert our lawmaking authority on S’ólh Téméxw, our land,” said Chief Terry Horne of Yakweakwioose First Nation.
“We do this today for our children tomorrow,” Chief Horne said about the agreement signed Oct. 13 in a ceremony in the Leq’á:mel community.
The six of 11 Sto:lo communities of Sto:lo Nation, have been involved in the stage 5 treaty process for years and “are pleased to now be entering into “final negotiations” for a ground-breaking treaty, Horne added. The MOU takes the place of an agreement-in-principle.
Ideally it would be within five years that they’d reach the final agreement, the chief said.
The signatories of the MOU agreed to develop a “core” treaty tackling the constitutional relationship, self-government, land ownership and jurisdiction.
Four of the six nations to sign are from the Chilliwack area.
The six chiefs of the Stó:lo Xwexwilmexw Treaty Association (SXTA), along with senior government ministers, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) guided by the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
It’s being heralded as a “new and innovative” approach to modern treaty.
“This memorandum of understanding is the result of years of hard work on the part of the Stó:lo Xwexwilmexw Treaty Association, with the governments of Canada and British Columbia,” said Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.
“This is a key milestone towards a treaty that is consistent with Canada’s commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and to the recognition and affirmation of Indigenous rights.”
It’s recognition that those rights cannot be extinguished or surrendered, underlining the true significance when something is recognized as being on “unceded” territory. It also shifts from seeking a full and final treaty settlement and starts with the “core” elements.
“Instead, this new approach builds a collaborative and predictable ongoing government-to-government relationship that can adapt to changing circumstances over time, as policies evolve or new rights are established by the courts, for example,” according to the press release about the MOU.
The administrative and operational matters, like program delivery and government administration, would be included in subsequent agreements, which are more easily amended than current treaties.
Some aspects of the MOU may be finalized at a later date.
The treaty organization, SXTA represents six Stó:lo communities:
• Athélets/Aitchelitz, led by Skemi (Angie Bailey)
• Leq’á:mel, led by Mae’xe (Alice Thompson)
• Sq’ewá:lxw/Skawahlook, led by Shxwetélemel-elhót (Maureen Chapman)
• Sq’ewqéyl/Skowkale, led by Lexhalten (Mark Point)
• Ch’iyáqtel/Tzeachten, led by Welí’leq (Derek Epp)
• Yeqwyeqwí:ws/Yakweakwioose, led by Siyémches (Terry Horne)