The signing of a bilateral agreement between the In-SHUCK-ch Nation and the provincial government has drawn the ire of the neighbouring Chehalis First Nation, which claims In-SHUCK-ch encroaches on its territory.
Negotiators for the In-SHUCK-ch and the province signed the agreement at a press conference early Monday at the First Nnation's office in Deroche, B.C. The agreement signifies that all substantive issues with the province have been resolved.
Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister Mike De Jong and chiefs of all three In-SHUCK-ch Nations signed it as witnesses.
"We are experiencing unprecedented momentum with treaty negotiations in British Columbia and we are celebrating today's milestone with the formal acknowledgment it deserves," De Jong said. "In-SHUCK-ch has demonstrated great leadership and vision to reach this understanding with us."
The move drew immediate fire from the Chehalis Nation, which mobilized a group of 75 protesters to crash the press conference before it even started. Standing outside the In-SHUCK-ch office, demonstrators held signs reading, "Don't take away our heart!" and "Shame on you B.C. government for not meaningfully consulting with Chehalis!"
The sticking point for Chehalis is St'epsum, known in more common speak as 20 Mile Bay. It's a village where elders have been buried and that has helped give some members their aboriginal names, according to Chief Willie Charlie.
Calling it the "heart" of Chehalis territory, Charlie said it's been co-opted by In-SHUCK-ch as treaty settlement lands as part of negotiations under the B.C. treaty process.
"If you look at one of our maps of our traditional territory, 20 Mile Bay's in the heart of our territory, it's right in the middle," he said.
Meetings with Gerard Peters, chief negotiator for the In-SHUCK-ch Nation, have not resulted in much progress towards excluding the area from its treaty plans, according to Charlie.
"At one point in time Gerard thought he was making a generous offer to us," he said. "He said, we will give you X amount of fee simple land at 20 Mile Bay and they will keep the rest of the land as treaty settlement land.
"It's like somebody splashed me with cold water. Okay, you want my house, and then you're going to be kind enough to rent me a room."
Peters, however, disputes the Chehalis claim over the area, saying that In-SHUCK-ch has an interest of its own there. He also said that, "Chief Willie has relayed on behalf of Chehalis that the only objective Chehalis has is to have removed the treaty settlement lands from the area that he sees as central to his needs.
"I can't do that because I don't believe at all that the area's exclusively Chehalis's."
The Chehalis Nation will now be entering consultations with the governments of Canada and B.C. to settle the matter of St'epsum and ensure that In-SHUCK-ch negotiations don't have any adverse impacts on the nation's "aboriginal rights and title."
It remains to be announced whether In-SHUCK-ch will also be part of the negotiations, but Peters indicated that it will.
"What I've committed to Willie Charlie is that I'll talk as long as I possibly can," he said. "If we don't have any sort of agreement, I'm going to be obliged to advance the treaty settlement lands as it's constituted to the end, to ratification."
With the bilateral agreement in place, the In-SHUCK-ch Nation, which is comprised of the Douglas, Skatin and Samahquam Nations living up and down the Lillooet River Valley and Harrison Lake, has only to finalize an agreement on housing with the federal government.
Peters expects to have a final treaty in place in about a year. Once completed, it could transfer 14,976 hectares of provincial Crown land and 1,284 hectares of reserve land over to the In-SHUCK-ch.
Capital funds transferred to the nation are expected to help with business capacity and economic opportunities, according to a news release from the provincial government.
Charlie feels that B.C. needs to talk to Chehalis before a final treaty can be ratified.
"The provincial government is trying to make a statement to BC that they're making headway on treaties before this election," he said. "They want to make a statement at Chehalis' expense."