THIS SPRING, THE UPPER NICOLA BAND blockaded roads leading to British Columbia's largest cattle spread, Douglas Lake Ranch, which encircles traditional Native fishing sites. The ranch is owned by the Woodward's retailing dynasty.
By law, ranch owners are supposed to respect the band's right to fish in its accustomed places. But under NAFTA, beef and milk are being imported from the U.S., flooding the market and bringing down prices.
Douglas Lake is therefore moving into tourism with a sports resort on the Upper Nicolas' hunting and fishing grounds; it charges customers as much as $100 a day to fish in Native waters such as Minnie and Salmon lakes.
In 1989, ranch managers ordered gates locked and ditches dug across roads to the lakes, blocking Native access.
The Upper Nicolas and ranch owners reached an agreement for joint use, but Douglas Lake failed to live up to it, provoking this year's confrontation.
Other bands and supporters joined the blockade, just one of many such showdowns. Sixty percent of B.C.'s Aboriginal bands are embroiled in negotiations over land claims with the federal and provincial governments.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 recognized bands as owner of their land. It mandated Crown governments in North America to sign treaties with individual indigenous nations before acquiring land for colonists.
But the province of B.C. denied the existence of Indian rights, negotiated only a few isolated treaties in the 1850s, and so never officially gained control over Native lands.
Therein lies the problem for business. Corporations want to eradicate claims by First Nations that cloud property titles.
In 1992, the New Democratic Party was elected in B.C. over the anti-Indian, long-entrenched Social Credit Party, partly because the NDP promised to settle such claims. In December 1994, talks opened under the auspices of the B.C. Treaty Commission.
As a party that bill itself as representing working people, the NDP should support First Nations against big business and take the position that their entire claim to B.C. is valid.
Instead, it refuses to recognize Native justice systems, prohibits gambling on indigenous land, and seeks to tax Indian individuals and enterprises.
The party expects the bands to accept title to only five percent of the province and to allow non-Native corporations full access to even this paltry area. The NDP is showing that it is hostile to the banks' fundamental right to self-determination -- their sovereignty as nations.
Sovereignty advocates who question the commission's legitimacy are being excluded from the talks. These traditionalist believe strongly in preserving the political, cultural and economic institutions of their pre-colonization societies -- and that means preserving the rights to the land on which these structures are based.
On the commission, the unequal relationship between capital-starved banks and the government is leading some Native negotiators to settle for quick-fix real estate deals renouncing sovereignty, which is exactly what the corporations are after.
Howard Adams, a prominent author, educator and activist who is Metis, says of the commission, "It's not the way to gain sovereignty or self-determination - this can only be realized by a mass political movement which includes labour and other natural allies of First Nations."
As Chub Pascal, a Lillooet band member [sic] and participant in the Douglas Lake blockade, told the Freedom Socialist, "As far as we're concerned, we have yet to give up any of our rights, sovereignty, or land by any measure of international law."
The NDP need to wake up, get out of bed with Douglas Lake Ranch, and start defending Native claims.
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