St'at'imc Nation members have voted to accept the terms of an agreement as part of a longstanding settlement with BC Hydro.
Members endorsed the St'at'imc Hydro Agreement with a 72 per cent approval rate in a vote that took place April 9, with just under 45 per cent of people in 11 bands voting to accept it.
"Today is a good day for our people and marks the beginning of a more prosperous future for our Nation," Mike Leach, chair of the St'at'imc Chiefs Counsel, said in a news release. "This agreement is a small measure of justice that our ancestors were seeking when they signed the declaration of 1911. We have a lot of work ahead, but today is a good day."
With a go-ahead from members to move forward on the agreement, chiefs from the 11 bands will gather together on May 10 to sign the agreement at Shalalth, a First Nation community at the north end of Seton Lake. The date is significant because it's the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Lillooet Declaration, a statement that declared the ownership of the St'at'imc people over their traditional territory.
The St'at'imc Nation isn't just one band. Members of the Lil'wat, Xa'xtsa, N'Quatqua, Samahquam, Skatin, Sekw'elw'as, T'it'q'et, Ts'kw'aylaxw, Xaxli'p and Xwisten First Nations are all the same people, divided into different bands.
The agreement addresses longstanding grievances by the member bands associated with the construction of hydro infrastructure on the Bridge River system near Lillooet as well as transmission infrastructure into southern communities such as Samahquam, Skatin and Xa'xtsa.
Much of this construction took place when BC Hydro was known as BC Electric, a Crown corporation that made various promises to First Nations that were never acted upon.
The agreement will transfer an estimated $210 million from BC Hydro and the Province of British Columbia to the St'at'imc communities to be administered in a trust fund. The amount could grow over several years if it accrues interest.
That money could go to various initiatives for economic development such as energy projects from which the bands can profit directly, or else cultural projects like development of new education centres.
Each band gets a $1 million signing bonus for adopting the agreement.
Though supported by a majority of people who voted, some within the St'at'imc Nation remain opposed to the agreement.
In a statement issued April 8, the day before the vote, the "St'at'imc No Coalition" urged members to vote against the agreement, saying that they weren't fully informed about the content of the agreement.
Roger Adolph, leader of the No Coalition and a chief of the Xaxli'p Band near Lillooet for 21 years, said in a Tuesday interview that he was disappointed at the outcome and that St'at'imc Chiefs who supported the agreement ought to prepare for a fight.
"Proper process and consent was not done properly right from the beginning," he said. "There's going to be a lot of issues on this coming up and this is only our second week that we've gotten together, the (coalition), but we're not standing still."
Among other things, Adolph is concerned that the vote did not reflect the will of the St'at'imc people. Out of 4,677 eligible voters, 2,083 took part in the process and in some communities voter turnout did not exceed 40 per cent.
Mount Currie, for example, saw 33 per cent of eligible voters turn out to voting stations, while Samahquam saw 35 per cent come out and vote. Skatin, meanwhile, saw 86 voters out of 296 come out and vote, a total of 29 per cent of eligible voters.
"That's one of our issues, is that they said 50 per cent plus one," Adolph said. "But they didn't stick to that. I guess it's 50 plus one of whoever showed up."
Beyond voter turnout, Adolph feels that consultation wasn't done properly. St'at'imc chiefs together held over 40 information sessions but Adolph is concerned that much of the consultation essentially pressured people to vote in favour of the agreement.
In a separate interview, Leach essentially said the same thing about the "no" side. He said members of the coalition were asking people straight up to vote against the agreement, something he said the chiefs never did.
"One thing we made sure, going through the information sessions, we never said to the people to vote yes or no," he said. "The No Coalition actually was telling people not to vote yes, so there's a bit of difference in approach there."
The St'at'imc Hydro Agreement's website contains information relating to the agreements, with statements by several chiefs as to why they would be voting in favour. A section addressing Frequently Asked Questions states that the consequences of voting "no" are that the bands would not receive any benefits and they would "continue to live in uncertainty and hardship."