Sts’ailes First Nation leaders sat down with several provincial government officials on Tuesday afternoon, to sign a memorandum of understanding regarding the stewardship of the Sts’ailes land and resources.
“We are starting to see the daylight,” Sts’ailes Chief Willie Charlie said before the ceremony. “We are starting to see the end of the tunnel.”
The MOU brings together numerous bodies within the government, including the ministry of aboriginal relations and reconciliation, the ministry transportation and infrastructure, the ministry forest lands and natural resource operations and the ministry of children and family development.
No ministers were on hand for the signing, however, Charlie said it was important to see the people who worked with the Sts’ailes band on a day-to-day basis, making the MOU a reality.
One of those “on the ground” representatives was Allan Johnsrude, district manager of the Chilliwack Resource District, a body of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
“This is an important event,” Johnsrude said. “It furthers a relationship we started with the First Nation (about five years ago). We’ve really developed a level of respect for each other.”
One of the changes that have been over the past year include a name change of the band, from Chehalis to the traditional name Sts’ailes. Very soon, the name of Harrison West Road will officially be changed to Sts’ailes Forest Service Road.
It’s a small but significant change, as the road bi-sects their traditional territory, Johnsrude said.
He acknowledged that in the past, it has been very difficult for those outside the government to communicate properly with people within the government. The MOU is one way to make those communications easier.
The MOU has started a process in which the Sts’ailes can work alongside the province, businesses, aboriginal and non-aboriginal neighbours, while continuing to exercise the rights to their traditional land.
Chief Charlie was the lead negotiator for the Sts’ailes, said the MOU “should provide certainty for us, certainty for the Province, and certainty for businesses wishing to work in our territory, all through a streamlined process.”
While Mary Polak, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliations was not at the ceremony, a press release stated her thoughts on the MOU.
“(It) creates a strategy for collaboration that will allow the Sts’ailes to take advantage of economic opportunities in the Fraser Valley, while providing more certainty over the use of land and natural resources. Chief Charlie has long demonstrated his commitment to addressing the health, social and economic needs of his community. I commend the negotiators from both Sts’ailes and the Province for taking this innovative approach.”
This MOU includes diverse initiatives such as forestry opportunities, road trespass, land exchanges, hydroelectric projects, tourism, conservation, coordinated consultation, child and family services, and health care—all of which form the basis for future government-to-government agreements.
“Sts’ailes Chief and Council has created a long range vision for the people of Sts’ailes that will not only contribute to the health, well being and prosperity of our people and land but will be mutually beneficial to our neighbours,” Charlie said.