After more than 27 years of unsettled treaty negotiations with the Crown, the Yekooche First Nation has issued a declaration affirming their unceded ancestral rights to their lands and resources.
By recognizing its Section 35 rights set out in the Constitution, the nation says it is taking back control of its territory and resources, and will be exercising its own laws, customs and resource management systems.
“Today, we take back the management and harvesting of our ecosystems – the land, the minerals, the trees, the animals and the water,” sai Chief Mitchell Joseph, in a news release. “Treaty negotiations have progressed at a snail’s pace over the past 27 years. We have real problems in our communities, like health, wellness and housing, which can’t afford to wait on the colonial process we call treaty negotiations. It’s 2023 and the Crown should not still control us and our resources. We remain wards of the state.
“We are a forgotten nation in B.C., ignored by our Crown who is supposed to be duty bound to act honourably and as proper fiduciaries towards us. My people have lived in inhumane conditions for too long. Today, we affirm our right to control our resources and destiny, and as such, will follow our own laws and protocols with respect to our lands. We will harvest according to our ancestors’ ways. We will take wood for fuel and to house ourselves. We will hunt and fish to feed our families. And we will take back those lands which industry has illegally occupied with the consent of the Crown. Within our territory is some of the last interior spruce old-growth forests that remain fully intact and untouched. Yet BC Timber Sales and companies like West Fraser take these trees, and destroy the moose habitat, without paying us a dime. We never ceded our rights, through war or conquest or treaty. As our Premier David Eby says, our lands were stolen. We are taking them back.”
The Yekooche First Nation is a remote First Nation located west of Fort St. James between the northern arm of Stuart Lake and Cunningham Lake. As with many remote First Nation communities, the nation has struggled with health and wellness issues and the development of workplace capacity given its geographic isolation.
“The declaration is an affirmation of Yekooche’s unceded and ancestral rights to the lands and the great resources above and below the ground in their territory,” said Malcolm Macpherson, a partner with Clark Wilson LLP who represents Yekooche. “It is a living expression of these rights, and the management of the lands and resources according to Yekooche custom and law. The Yekooche leadership has come to the realization that they can no longer wait for the treaty negotiation process to deliver results over the management of these resources. So, they are taking charge of their lands – something that is in line with Premier David Eby’s recent statements, including his recognition that Indigenous lands in B.C. were, in fact, stolen from the original Indigenous owners. Yekooche First Nation has been in treaty negotiations for close to three decades and has come to the conclusion that their lands won’t be returned in a timely manner, so they are reclaiming them. Can we blame them for seeking progress and the betterment of their community?”
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