Recent protests by two other Indian bands about the proposed signing of a cooperation agreement between Imperial Metals and Simpcw First Nation are based on overlapping territorial claims, according to Fred Fortier, Simpcw councilor.
“We will not be signing any agreement until we have an understanding with the other Secwepemc bands about shared resources,” said Fortier. “We’re not taking it as a setback. If the mine doesn’t go through, it doesn’t go through.”
The proposed signing, which was to have been held Aug. 9 at the Community Resource Center in Clearwater, was cancelled at the last minute.
Members of the Adams Lake Indian Band, which is located near Chase, set up a blockade that reportedly restricted access to Imperial Metal’s exploration camp near Ruddock Creek. The camp is being used to explore a proposed major zinc and lead mine and is located about 30 km directly east of Avola. The blockade apparently was only up for a short time.
“We don’t have a problem with roadblocks,” Fortier commented, “but you need to have negotiated first.”
On the same date, about 20 members of the Neskonlith Indian Band traveled from Chase to Clearwater to protest the signing. After learning it had been postponed, they staged a mini-demonstration on the CRC lawn.
In a media release the Neskonlith protesters said that Secwepemc Nation and its people collectively held Aboriginal title, not an individual band.
“The Neskonlith can say what they want,” said Fortier. “We’re clear that the Canoe/Thompson division of the nation has responsibility to be gatekeepers to this area.”
He pointed out that the Simpcw claim as their traditional territory from near Edson and beyond McBride to McLure.
“We’ve done a lot of research over the last 20 to 30 years to provide proof of our use and occupation of these areas,” said Fortier. “We’re asking the other Secwepemc bands to provide information about their use and occupancy. As for Ruddock Creek, we’re not saying we had exclusive use, but we have an interest.”
The Simpcw have a similar situation with overlapping claims with Adams Lake Indian Band in regards to Yellowhead Mining’s Harper Creek project, said Fortier.
“These overlaps go back 500 years,” said the Simpcw councilor, who pointed out that his band historically had to protect its territory from other tribes such as the Cree, Okanagans and Chilcotins.
“To move forward on economic development, we need to work with the other communities,” he said. “We have no choice. We have to deal with it.”