Feb 5/98: Interior bands reject BC govt authority


Globe & Mail
February 5, 1998, p. A8
Robert Matas - BC Bureau

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

VANCOUVER - Chiefs of six British Columbia Indian bands have warned the province they consider all new provincial programs, licenses and land sales granted in their traditional territory since Dec. 11 to be worthless. Asserting rights they believe were given them under a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision [Delgamuukw], the governing council of the Interior BC bands, which calls itself the Tsilhqot'in National Government, has in recent days taken the following steps:

- BC Agriculture Minister Corky Evans was told he should not give $7,000 to help local ranchers because he did not first ask their permission;

- Forestry and environment ministries were informed their procedures for selling and leasing Crown land and dealing with environmental assessments were obsolete and invalid;

- members of the aboriginal community were urged to prepare to repopulate land this summer their ancestors historically lived on, which could mean, for instance, reclaiming land now used by non-aboriginal ranchers for cattle grazing.

The Tsilhqot'in National Government, which demands nation-to-nation negotiations with Ottawa without the province's involvement, represents about 3,500 people spread over forested areas and marshland in the BC Interior east of Williams Lake. Less than 1,000 non-aboriginal people live in the territory but significant areas are used by ranchers, mining and logging operations. The Tsilhqot'in's approach to aboriginal claims reflects the most strident response to a Supreme Court of Canada decision. The ruling issued Dec. 11 recognized the constitutional right of aboriginal title to land that has not been given away by treaty. Most of the aboriginal peoples of BC never signed treaties. The judges also stated that native bands must be consulted about the use of land, water and resources in their territories, and that they are entitled to be compensated for their use by others.

Several aboriginal communities have become increasingly frustrated because neither Ottawa not the BC government have changed their positions on aboriginal rights as a result of the court ruling. Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart said last weekend Ottawa would develop its new position in partnership with native bands. She agreed to a new round of talks to set out a foundation for treaty negotiations which reflects the court ruling. BC Premier Glen Clark has agreed to meet with Indian leaders, but the government otherwise has given no indication what it will do. Nevertheless, most aboriginal groups in BC are considerably more moderate than the Tsilhqot'in. Although the court decision has strengthened their claims, most still want the current process of treaty negotiations to continue.

The First Nations Summit, which speaks for 70 per cent of BC's aboriginal bands, is expected to meet with federal and BC governments later this month to discuss how the government could accommodate the court ruling. The summit also asked for a temporary moratorium on new licenses, leases and the sale of Crown land until agreement is reached. "The BC and federal government cannot continue with a business-as-usual approach," said summit spokesman Edward John. At the same time, treaty negotiations are continuing with 51 native bands under the old rules. At least eight bands are holding meetings within the next few days. Two bands have scheduled public information sessions to share the substance of their negotiations so far. Meanwhile, the Nisga'a First Nation in northwestern BC which is close to signing the first treaty in more than a century in the province, will meet with government negotiators Monday in Prince Rupert.

"We're prepared to continue to negotiate on the basis of the agreement in principle that was reached on March 22, 1996," Nisga'a Chief Joe Gosnell said in an interview. "Our position has not changed at all." The Tsilhqot'in, though reject the current treaty process. They are holding a two-day conference starting today to decide on a strategy to protect their rights. Ray Hance, deputy chief of the Tsilhqot'in National Government, said the chiefs expect to hold all government bureaucrats personally responsible for decisions made since the court ruling. They will also talk about claiming the revenue from the extraction of natural resources in their territory, and the need to reduce the region's annual timber cut by up to half. BC Forest Minister David Zirnhelt, who represents the area, took a measured approach. "On one level there's a lot of rhetoric, and on another level there's a lot of co-operation," he said in an interview.

Letters to the Globe and Mail: letters@GlobeAndMail.ca

[Zirnhelt, himself a Cariboo ranch owner, was the NDP Agriculture Minister at the time of the Gustafsen Lake standoff. In a letter to the NDP cabinet at the time, he advised that "Crown land may be involved". -- S.I.S.I.S.]


Full text of December 11, 1997 ruling:

Index of Delgamuukw/Gitksan articles, analysis, and commentary:

Background information on Delgamuukw case:

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