“The treaty process has taken 20 plus years to get where we're at now, and we're finally steamrolling ahead,” Emily Kelly from Leq'á:mel First Nation explained. She’s lived in Chilliwack for ten years but is moving back home soon. Kelly has worked with Stó:lō Xwexwilmexw Treaty Association (SXTA) for six years, an organization which consists of six bands negotiating a treaty with British Columbia and Canada. They are working towards a self-government, maintaining jurisdiction on their own lands, and getting out from under the Indian Act.
“The SXTA treaty is pretty unique because we are putting in plain black and white that we are not going to be extinguishing any Aboriginal rights and title, which is pretty groundbreaking, and we've just been paving our own path to be a part of,” Kelly explained. The process has involved a lot of consultation.
"We've done a lot of learning from other treaties. We have our leaders that are going into other communities to learn about just things that they could have done differently, and learning about things that we can be doing now to get to implementation,” she elaborated.
The treaty has taken a unique path, proceeding under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) instead of an Agreement in Principle. With an MOU in place, their attention has shifted to their own governance structure and constitution. In order to prepare for a vote on the topic, the organization has engaged the community in a variety of ways to get people talking and spread the word about what they are trying to achieve while staying COVID-safe. They’ve gathered feedback in different formats like dinners and world cafe format gatherings over a period of over six months.
With the pandemic some of the engagement has shifted online. The strong team of Sto:lo women continue to press forward despite the challenges they face, doing their best to keep communities involved in the treaty process. The work plan they built had to be modified significantly due to restrictions. Whether by phone, email, social media, lettermail, or webinar the SXTA team has been working hard to get the word out.
Kelly has struggled with the impacts of the pandemic and being away from her team. ”We all got sent home from the office. We weren't to go in anymore, and the kids were to stay home from school,” she remembered. “I actually miss my coworkers so much. I can't wait to just be back in the office and have our normal daily tasks in the office. I miss socializing with them. I'm so lucky I have such a great team to work with too. We're coworkers, but we're also really good friends,” she continued.
While this path is exciting, it’s not the path Kelly expected to take. After graduating from high school, she wanted to become a fitness trainer. Contemplating a career in fitness she thought, "I'm benefiting myself, I'm benefiting people, making money. What could be better?" But as she says, “better” found her. Looking back she sees fitness training as more of a hobby for herself.
For Kelly, “better” looked like having two children, taking a break, and trying out some different jobs including working as a receptionist. The opportunity to work with her current employer came up and her dad encouraged her to take it on. Initially reluctant, she is glad she pursued the opportunity.
She started her role as an outreach liaison after studying hard for the interview and succeeding. Finding childcare has been a challenge but she’s persevered and been promoted to community engagement coordinator. The makeup of her team has shifted as team members have pursued other priorities and the way the work has been done has changed too with the shift to online engagement.
Regardless of the way the work is done, the mission is important to Kelly and her team. “We want to be there. We realize what's put in front of us and we are able to work towards a better future for our communities. It's not just any community, it's for us, and our kids, the future generations and even for our ancestors,” she shared.
Kelly is proud to be part of a movement and a process she believes in and of her role with STXA. “It's been so dynamic and it's been so exciting. It's never a dull job. I feel fortunate to be a part of our own history. I feel like this is huge for us and I get to be a big part of it,” she beamed. After 20 years, her community is on track towards a modern day treaty that will meet their needs and those of generations to come. Finally, the six bands of STXA are steamrolling ahead.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
May 2022 Updates: Emily is now the Outreach and Communications Supervisor and the SXTA has recently changed their name to Stó:lō Xwexwilmexw Government (SXG). For more information on their process, check out their website: www.sxta.bc.ca
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