To: Prime Minister of Canada
Mr. Jean Chretien
From: Per Gahrton
Member of the Green Group of the European Parliament
Head of the delegation of the Swedish Green Party
Brussels, 4th of July 1997
Dear Prime Minister Chretien,
We are writing to you to express our deep concern on the ongoing court case against the members of the Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation and their supporters who refused to abandon Secwepemc sundance and burial grounds at Gustafsen Lake on traditional Secwepemc territory. This land has never been sold or ceded by the Secwepemc Nation to the British Crown or the Canadian Government. However the traditional Secwepemcs and their allies have been inter-alia convicted of "mischief to private property" for not leaving their traditional territory on demand of the Euro-Canadian "owner" of the lands. Their protest developed into one of the largest police operations in Canadian history. The RCMP used Armoured Personnel Carriers, land mines and thousands of rounds of hollow point ammunition. Again, landrights issues were attempted to be solved by military operations and not by peaceful means of negotiation.
What was the background of the protest? With few exceptions no treaties have been concluded so far between First Nations and the Crown within the Province of British Columbia. Therefore most territory within Province boundaries is considered to be "non-ceded". This includes traditional Secwepemc territory. However since 1993 the provincial government of British Columbia and the federal government have entered into trilateral negotiations with many of the Band Councils across the Province to settle landrights by the conclusion of treaties. Nevertheless, several First Nations are not willing to participate in this treaty process. The current treaty policy of the Canadian government towards Indian Nations seems to mainly focus on the definite extinguishment of Aboriginal title. From an Aboriginal perspective, treaties should accomplish not the extinguishment but the recognition of Aboriginal title, the historic position of Aboriginal Peoples and their future relationship with Canada.
Many First Nations have repeatedly asked for alternative procedures for solving the issue of unceded indigenous territory. One of the proposals, namely of the protestors of Gustafsen Lake, was to attorn the dispute about jurisdiction over unsurrendered aboriginal territory to an independent, impartial, third-party tribunal.
In any case, landrights issues between First Nations and the Canadian Federal Government are subject to a political solution and not to Provincial court jurisdiction. Even Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Cashore has pointed out that supreme courts have taken the position that aboriginal landrights are subject to politically negotiated solutions and not to litigation.
Therefore, we urge you to
1. Do everything possible for an immediate release of the Secwepemc and their allies who are currently convicted in the BC court system and instead negotiate a political solution to Secwepemc land rights issues.
2. Allow a full and comprehensive public inquiry into all aspects of the Gustafsen Lake operation, with international observers present to monitor the process.
3. Respect the opinion of the First Nations within the Province of British Columbia that the Treaty Process in their view is not an appropriate frame to negotiate agreements on their unceded territory and provide in close cooperation and consultation with the Aboriginal Peoples concerned for an alternative frame for solving these issues.