Working together and moving forward were two key themes that kept emerging as members of the Southern Dakelh Nation Alliance (SDNA) and Tsilhqot’in Nation gathered in Quesnel to strengthen their relationship by signing a Letter of Understanding.
The SDNA and Tsilhqot’in Nation signed an Interim Letter of Understanding (LOU) for Boundary Discussions Jan. 11 at the Quesnel and District Seniors Centre.
The SDNA was represented by the Lhtako Dené Nation, Nazko First Nation, Lhoosk’uz Dené Nation and Ulkatcho Nation, while the Tsilhqot’in Nation was represented by the Xeni Gwet’in First Nations Government, Yunesit’in Government, Tl’etinqox Government, ?Esdilagh First Nation, Tsideldel First Nation, Toosey Indian Band (Tl’esqox) and the Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG).
“It’s great to have a formal agreement to work together,” says Chief Percy Guichon of the Tsideldel First Nation. “It’s a very important step, I think, for creating stronger, healthier communities, and it is going to make us stronger.”
At the Jan. 11 LOU signing ceremony, Shawn Holte, who is the SDNA’s executive director/lead negotiator and a member of the Ulkatcho Nation, explained the ceremony was an important celebration of working together.
“We have to find a way to come together,” he told those gathered to witness the signing. “Yes, sometimes we have to agree to disagree, but at the other end of it, there is something better.”
Recognizing and valuing the “enduring relationship” between the nations and their “proud history as neighbours,” the LOUstates: “the SDNA and Tsilhqot’in Nation recognize the overlap between our territories and are committed to working to resolve boundary issues as a priority.”
The SDNA and Tsilhqot’in Nation entered a Memorandum of Understanding on May 11, 2017, to commit to working together as neighbours to resolve boundary issues associated with the Nenqay Deni Accord through the establishment of a Technical Table, according to the LOU.
“As Southern Dakelh and Tsilhqot’in peoples, we value our relationship and the ties that bind us as neighbours, and we wish to continue engaging at a Nation-to-Nation level to resolve boundary issues between us in a good and positive way, and the Nations wish to demonstrate our progress and commitment to this work,” states the LOU.
By signing this LOU, the SDNA and Tsilhqot’in Nation agree to recognize the efforts that have been undertaken so far to address he boundary issues and agree to support the “Principles to Resolve Boundary Issues.” The nations also commit to continuing efforts to resolve boundary issues “in a positive way through the work the Technical Table” and commit to seeking a lasting resolution to boundary issues.
As an interim measure, the nations agree too establish a buffer area around the Indian Reserve Lands of each individual member community, known as “community areas.” The community areas will be developed through community-to-community engagement and/or protocol, according to the LOU.
Chief Clifford Lebrun of the Lhtako Dené Nation says when he first spoke to their Elders about an alliance with Southern Dakelh nations and working with the Tsilhgot’in Nation, he often heard one thing: “it’s about time.”
“One thing I noticed with all our discussions at the head tables is the discussions started with a boundary between us, and I think we’ve evolved to not a boundary between us but one around us,” says Lebrun. “I’m very proud. It’s been a lot of work.”
Chief Russell Myers Ross, of the Yunesit’in Government, who is the TNG Tribal Vice-Chair, spoke positively about the process and what the LOU represents.
“I think at the base of it, as long as we have these core values of respect and honesty, I think we can move forward,” he says. “I feel good about this process and signing the Letter of Understanding.”
Chief Betty Cahoose of the Ulkatcho Nation shared a bit of her family history to illustrate how the nations are all connected in some way or other.
“This really brings me back to when we formed the Southern Dakelh Nation Alliance,” she said. “Our nation said it’s about time we come together and work together. My nation and my community are very happy that we are coming together and doing this good work. I’m really optimistic that things are going to improve between the nations.”