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VANCOUVER—A new agreement between BC Hydro, the province of British Columbia and the St'at'imc Chiefs Council was approved in a nation-wide vote last weekend, but a group of St'at'imc community members say they're still determined to stop the deal.
The six-volume agreement is said to have a net-worth of $210 million. It is payable over the next 99 years through a nation-wide trust and individual one-time payouts for each of the 11 St’at’imc communities.
Confidential talks between St'at'imc negotiators and BC Hydro took place over the last 17 years, and the contents of the agreement were released to St'at'imc people in January 2011. It went to a vote on April 9, 2011. An estimated 45 per cent of St’at’imc people participated, 72 per cent of whom voted in favour of the deal.
"The majority of our people didn't even know about [the agreement]," said Roger Adolph, who was chief of the Xaxli'p band for 21 years. “It was initialed off by the Chiefs in December of 2010, then they started having information sessions in January, February and March,” he said.
Mike Leach, Chair of the St’at’imc Chiefs Council, was one of the key negotiators of the agreement.
“It is definitely a good deal, because we're only dealing with one issue—we're dealing with only the impacts of hydro on the territory,” Leach said. “There is no extinguishment of St’at’imc rights to our lands.”
But the agreement does provide BC Hydro with certainty of access and possession to transmission lines and all their facilities on St’at’imc territory, which lies northwest of the Fraser Valley. St'at'imc territory, which has never been surrendered or ceded, is already home to three dams, two reservoirs and four generating stations, as well as 15 transmission circuits that make up 850 kilometres of transmission lines. In addition, BC Hydro has built 160 kilometres of access roads and four recreation facilities in St'at'imc lands.
“The agreement will provide BC Hydro and the Province of BC with operational certainty for BC Hydro’s existing facilities into the future,” reads a press release put out by the company last week.
“As I read it, Aboriginal title has not been extinguished, but it has been limited,” said Adolph, who is a vocal critic of the agreement, and says the recent agreement will change the parameters of struggle against future BC Hydro projects in St’at’imc territory.
"The Chiefs have agreed that if any individual, group or community that advances a title and right issue [against BC Hydro] through direct action, the Chiefs will come down on those people to stop them,” said Adolph.“It's right in the agreement, in the certainty agreement. I call it a gag order.”
A gag order has already been put into effect at the local level: on April 6, 2011, the publisher of the St’at’imc Runner was locked out of the office where she’s worked for the last five years. The reason given was that the monthly community newspaper ran a four-page ad, paid for by individuals, pushing for a “no” vote on April 9. This came just after BC Hydro provided St’at’imc Nation Hydro with a $500,000 “interim payment," upon the Chiefs’ initialing the agreement on December 17. These funds were used to promote and carry out its ratification.
Spokespeople for BC Hydro and the provincial Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation refused to comment on the agreement.
This is the first time that the St’at’imc people have, as a nation, made any kind of agreement with the province. This raises additional considerations: they now must officially form a nation-level government.
“In order to manage this agreement we will have to put into place a St’at’imc government,” said Leach, who at the moment is interim chair of the St’at’imc Chiefs Council. “Once we've agreed on a format for that government, which we're working on now just to be able to manage this agreement, cause there's a lot involved, there will be an election for a chair once that is done.”
“So if I decided to run, I become the chair, right?” he said, pausing for a moment before adding, “or maybe somebody else.”
But for some, signing an agreement before a structure with a mandate to represent the nation exists is putting the chicken before the egg.
“It's 11 chiefs getting together called the St’at’imc Chiefs Council, now they're calling themselves the St’at’imc Authority, and they don't have a mandate from the people to be there,” said Adolph. “The only mandate they have is for their individual communities, where they've been elected by their people under the Indian Act to run Department of Indian Affairs programs.”
As per the new agreement, a new St'at'imc Authority will be formally constituted with recognition by British Columbia, rather than through a St’at’imc process.
“There is no organization, there's no governance structure, there's no bylaws,” said Adolph in reference to the St’at’imc Authority. “They don’t even have an office, and yet the province and BC Hydro recognize the St’at’imc Authority as having the legal power.”
Adolph and others have promised that they will continue to fight the agreement. “There's a group of us and the group is growing,” said Adolph. “This agreement is more than just past grievances [about existing hydro projects],” he said. “BC Hydro got their wish.”
Dawn Paley is a Vancouver-based journalist. This article was originally published by the Vancouver Media Co-op.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.