|Today British Columbia is officially 150 years old.
We extend sincere congratulations to the people of this province and
the government of B.C. in commemorating this important anniversary.
We share an incredibly beautiful and resource-rich land which has
provided a livelihood for most British Columbians.
for B.C. first nations, however. The goodwill of the people and
the political will of governments is required to address
socio-economic disparities and honourably and fairly resolve the "land
On Nov. 19, 1858, James Douglas, governor of the colony, issued a
proclamation dispossessing our peoples of our lands. Douglas called
them "Indian Territories" and "wild and unoccupied." He named
the colony British Columbia and paved the way to establish a
Three months later, on Feb. 14, 1859, he would "declare" that "all
lands in British Columbia, and all the Mines and Minerals therein,
belong to the Crown in fee."
Douglas's description of our territories as "wild" may have a
certain poetic allure, but these lands were certainly occupied.
Our "Indian Territories" were and continue to be the ancestral
homelands of many different self-governing indigenous peoples and
nations including Dakelh/Dene, Coast and Interior Salish, Haida,
Tsimshian/Nisga'a/Gitxsan, Tlingit, Ktunaxa, Kwakiutl, Nuu Chah Nulth
and so on.
None of them, or their ancestors, consented to the transfer of
their lands to the Crown by way of agreement, treaty, acquiescence,
conquest, warfare or otherwise.
This pattern of conduct on behalf of the Crown, unfortunately, did
not stop with Douglas.
Successive governments put in place policies and laws that:
Established Indian residential schools across Canada whose purpose, as
acknowledged by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in his June 11, 2008,
apology, was to "kill the Indian in the child," undermine families and
sever cultural and linguistic ties, bonds and connections; prohibited
and made illegal cultural and political practices exercised through
the indigenous potlatch system; prohibited Indians from voting in
provincial elections and from holding lands which were being freely
pre-empted by recently arrived immigrants.
As a result of legal victories by first nations in the past 40
years, governments must now rectify the declarations of governor
Douglas and those of subsequent colonial, provincial and federal
This, however, is a difficult and complicated political and legal
The Crown has given away massive amounts of land and resources to
waves of immigrants and financial interests. Citizens now own
homes and hold legal title over lands for which compensation has never
been paid to the original owners.
Lawyers for Canada and B.C. continue to question the rights and
existence of first nations peoples. This forces aboriginal
people into expensive, time-consuming litigation within a largely
inaccessible legal system.
The position of the courts is clear: The provincial government and
predecessor colonial governments did not and do not have legal
authority to extinguish first nations' aboriginal rights and title.