Sleeping bags, pounding drums, thick sage smoke and a lot of anger filled the BC Treaty Commission offices on the fourth day of the Native Youth Movement's occupation yesterday. About 30 young aboriginal people say they won't leave the offices at 1155 W. Pender in Vancouver unless forcibly removed by police, and they made it clear they don't plan to go quietly. "We've got children and pregnant women, and if there is any police force, we'll have to respond in kind," said Nak'sten, a 37-year-old Lil'Wat veteran of the Mount Currie blockades.
But NYM spokesmen David Dennis and Nitanis Desjarlais scoffed at the idea of violence. "Violence isn't started by us - why haven't they talked about the violence to the Indian people, the violence of poverty, the violence of our unequal education system and racism?" said Dennis who is of Carrier-Sekani and Nuu-chah-nulth heritage. Desjarlais said:" We as youth will be carrying a load of debt we can't pay because the leaders are borrowing big money for treaties that extinguish our title at the end of the day."
BCTC landlord Wicklow West Holdings Ltd. has posted security guards but has not obtained an injunction to remove the occupiers, and city police say they won't move without one. BCTC chief commissioner Alec Robertson said: "I don't think occupation of our offices for two to three days will deter the majority of First Nations who are involved in the treaty process." Robertson said the occupiers, most of whom are under age 25, should talk to their own leaders.
Vancouver - In an attempt to light a fire under the dry academic debate over native land claims in British Columbia, 35 youths have moved into a federal government office in Vancouver and refuse to budge. The native group argues that the landmark Delgamuukw decision of the Supreme Court of Canada means that most of the province belongs to them and the current round of treaty negotiations should be called off, David Dennis, spokesman for the group, told reporters yesterday. "We're the official opposition to the treaty process," he said, as the smoke of burning sweetgrass filled the air. "We're the embodiment of a growing body of people who are in opposition to this process."
The Supreme Court ruled that native people who have not signed away their native land in treaties have a constitutional right to own their land and use it almost entirely as they wish. Meanwhile one block away, Wet'suwet'en Chief Herb George [& AFN Vice Chief -- S.I.S.I.S.], a central figure in the court battle, said yesterday that native and non-native leaders must move beyond their fascination with legal interpretations of the court decision. Chief George did not offer support for those occupying the government office. However he urged those involved in treaty negotiations to accept the court decision has established aboriginal title to the land.
The job now is to decide how to bring in changes, he said in an interview before speaking at a conference at a downtown hotel on Aboriginal Law in Canada. "We have to get past the legal discussions and look at what we are doing with it. We've forgotten that this case was about people in their communities. Nothing has changed in their lives, while we engage in this process of discussion," he added. The Delgamuukw court case was started by 51 hereditary chiefs of the Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en bands, who live in coastal and interior areas about 700 kilometres north of Vancouver. The judges ruled that the government has to consult in a meaningful way with native bands before making any decision that affects aboriginal land and must pay compensation for the use of the land.
Most of British Columbia is subject to claims from Indian bands that have never signed treaties. The federal and provincial governments are involved in negotiations with 54 bands. Members of the Native Youth Movement took over the British Columbia Treaty Commission Office last Friday to show their opposition to the current round of negotiations. "By stopping business here, we are trying to stop the process," Mr. Dennis said. Earlier this year, the same group disrupted a meeting of native leaders with federal Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart. Reporters arriving for a news conference at the commission office saw sleeping bags on the floor and slogans on bulletin boards. A few senior government employees were in their offices while the youths spoke to reporters in the office boardroom. The session ended with chants that included "We don't need your Constitution" and "[North] America is all Indian land." It was unclear whether police would try to remove the demonstrators from the office last night.
The group's message to youth, Mr. Dennis said, is that they should occupy their land. "And that is what Indigenous youth are preparing to do," he said. "The land is ours and we are not going to settle for anything else." Mr. Dennis attacked native leadership as ineffective and accused the leaders of being more interested in their earnings as negotiators than in reaching a settlement. Treaty negotiations should be held nation to nation between hereditary chiefs and Ottawa, he said. Political scientist Paul Tennant said that if the youths really wanted to have an impact they would return to their territories and agitate for the leaders to change. "These media events are the easy way out, but they do not change anything."