The Lower Similkameen Indian Band took the first step in a fight to reassert their traditional territorial rights to enforce better conservation and environmental practices in the Ashnola watershed.
On Thursday, April 28, the LSIB declared the Ashnola Corridor to be an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area, reasserting the traditional rights and responsibilities of the sməlqmíx — the syilx people of the Similkameen Valley — to protect the land, water and animals in the watershed after years of what they called mismanagement.
Some of the work that will be done as part of the Ashnola IPCA will include creating water quality and forestry standards grounded in traditional law, a written expression of the sməlqmíx’s traditional laws, watershed planning, ongoing land management efforts and building sustainable economic opportunities in the Ashnola.
“Our position and what we need to focus on comes from our laws,” said Chief Keith Crow. “Our laws have not been stood up and reflected in any provincial or federal [laws]. It’s time that we bring them forward, and that’s the guidance we’re getting from our community, our elders and our people.”
The Ashnola Corridor stretches from the headwaters of the Ashnola River, to Cathedral Lakes and Paul Creek.
Among efforts that the protected area would propose to promote include the return of the traditional controlled burns that were historically conducted by the syilx people in order to keep the forests healthy and protect against wildfires.
“Traditional burning practices as well as conservation measures I know are a hot topic,” said Crow. “But with the lack of animals that we’re seeing, we have to do something. We’ve been trying to engage with Canadian Wildfire Services, we’ve had great conversations, and that’s our goal. We want to make better partnerships and make our voices heard.”
The declaration is not a statement of solitary, as the band has called for the sharing of the burden of protecting the ecosystem with provincial, national and local governments.
Following the declaration, further work on communicating the importance of, and consulting and collaborating with others to plan the next steps for the IPAC will soon begin.
A new interpretative sign to provide better education about the region was also installed and finished at the Ashnola campgrounds on April 28.
“I think the biggest thing is education, for [people] to understand they are coming through our lands, and to show respect for the land and what that means,” said Crow.
Among those gathered for the ceremony and the signing of the declaration included witnesses from across the sylix territories, including elders and members from Penticton Indian Band, Upper Similkameen Indian Band, Okanagan Indian Band and the Colville Confederated Tribes south of the Canada-U.S. border.
“It’s up to us as caretakers to do what we’re doing here today, “said Andrew Joseph Jr., the chair of the Colville Confederated Tribes. “Our actions today will help seven generations from now. My message would be to work with our children and prepare them so they can do as our elders did for us.”
The declaration was read and signed in both syilx, and in English, with elders of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, Chief Crow and the witnesses for the ceremony.
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