The Fraser River is seen in this undated photo (NStQ Film)

New First Nations law intended to protect Fraser River sparks dispute over territory

The Nations are requesting nation-to-nation dialogue on ?Esdilagh’s law to protect the Fraser River

A First Nations law created recently to protect Fraser River waters that flow through the caretaker area of a Tsilhqot’in Nation community north of Williams Lake is not sitting well with the Secwepemc Nation in south central B.C.

The Northern Shuswap Tribal Council (NSTC) issued a news release on June 10 calling for respectful dialogue with the Tsilhqot’in Nation in regards to the Elhdaqox Dechen Ts’edilhtan (Sturgeon River Law) that was recently enacted by the ?Esdilagh (Alexandria) First Nation.

NSTC said while it respects the authority of ?Esdilagh to enact its laws within its respective territory, only Secwepemc have authority to enact laws within Secwepemculucw (Secwepemc Territory) which they say spans 180,000 square kilometers and includes the headwaters of the Fraser River and portions of the Fraser River north of Soda Creek and south to High Bar.

“Secwepemculuw is a large territory, and what’s happened is Indigenous nations that are on the borders have been claiming areas in the territory and even taking up reserves as part of their claims so we’re just fed-up,” said Secwepemc Nation Tribal Kukpi7 (Chief) Wayne Christian of the Splatsin First Nation near Enderby. “All around us what’s happening is all these other Indigenous nations are making claims about imposing their law in our territory and what we say to the Crown is that their law doesn’t apply, our law applies. The same with any other Indigenous nation.”

Read More: B.C. First Nation adopts historic law to protect Fraser River

The Tsilhqot’in Nation said it is aware of the concerns raised by the Secwepemc Nation and is open and welcome to dialogue.

“Our first priority is taking steps to protect the waters, the salmon and other fisheries that ʔEsdilagh and our other communities depend on for our culture and survival – and they are under constant threat from discharge and pollution into the river,” the Tsilhqot’in Nation said in a response June 10.

“That is our mandate from our ancestors. To be clear, by enacting the ?Esdilagh Elhdaqox Dechen Ts’edilhtan (“Sturgeon River Law”), we were not suggesting that other Nations do not also have responsibilities for the Fraser River, and we hope that we can work through that understanding in the coming weeks with them.”

Elhdaqox Dechen Ts’edilhtan allows ?Esdilagh First Nation the right to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them, their rights, or their territory including the Fraser River. It is to ensure the Fraser River is managed and protected in accordance to Tsilhqot’in law so it remains healthy for current and future generations.

Read More: Tahltan ask visitors to stay away from their territory during COVID-19

Like many First Nations, Christian said the Secwepemc Nation consider water to be sacred.

Stswecem’c Xgat’tem (Canoe Creek/Dog Creek) Kukpi7 (Chief) Patrick Harry said the Secwepemc communities along the Fraser River take their stewardship role seriously.

“We have always exercised our jurisdiction within Secwepemc territory on the Fraser River,” Harry said in a news release.


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