Three local First Nations have extra reason to celebrate today.
Amidst all the National Aboriginal Day festivities, leaders of the Penticton, Osoyoos and Lower Similkameen Indian Bands also met in the city to sign a deal to formalize their working relationship with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.
“We’re all here to stay. So when we’re all here to stay, that means we all have to learn how to work together,” said Penticton Indian Band Chief Jonathan Kruger.
The protocol agreement sets out processes for consultation, collaboration and joint decision-making.
“One thing I know about protocols, accords and all those things, is the bottom line is it’s commitment, it’s respect, and it’s the commitment to work together,” Kruger said.
“So I’m just very grateful today to know that going forward we’ll continue to work together in a better way for all of us.”
Mark Pendergraft, the RDOS director for rural Osoyoos and acting board chair, acknowledged the signing ceremony was set to coincide with National Aboriginal Day, which is meant to recognize and celebrate First Nations people.
“It only seems fitting then for us, today, to celebrate a relationship of mutual respect and understanding and spirit of shared stewardship,” Pendergraft said.
The protocol, he continued, formalizes the four parties’ “relationship as governments exercising jurisdiction over a common homeland.”
Lower Similkameen Indian Band Chief Robert Edwards said the protocol will be tested often.
“Every time you sell a house lot off, it affects our title and rights to the land. It affects our food sources, our medicine, our sacred areas. So those are going to be the tests that are coming,” he said.
“We have a lot to talk about, and we’re not going to get it done hiding behind an office door or running off to another meeting. It’s (done by) sitting down and talking about the problem and fixing it.”
While the agreement doesn’t have an expiry date, it can be scrapped with 60 days’ notice from any party. The groups will meet twice a year to discuss matters of concern, establish a joint council to make recommendations to the member governments, and consider adding a First Nations seat at the RDOS board table.
The agreement was signed by the First Nations in 2008, but never ratified by the RDOS board, due to contentious language within the protocol related to aboriginal title and rights.
A new push to sign the deal emerged from a meeting this March between the groups. The board was told title and rights are a federal issue, so their presence in the agreement is of little consequence to the RDOS.