[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.]
An Interior tribal council representing more than 6,000 native Indians is threatening to personally sue civil servants who approve transactions involving Crown land without first consulting aboriginal governments. The stance of the Tsilhqot'in national government could have profound implications for the logging industry in 90,000 square kilometres of British Columbia's Interior.
Between 1984 and 1994, the forest industry generated $455 million in revenues for the province in the Cariboo forest region, which includes a large portion of the disputed area. Considered among the toughest and most militant of BC's aboriginal nations, the Tsilhqot'in are one of the few native Indian groups in Canadian history to actually fight a war in defence of their territorial sovereignty. In a letter to the province obtained by The Sun, the tribal council cites the Supreme Court of Canada's recent Delgamuukw decision as the basis for a demand that the province "cease and desist from further processing of land-related tenure application and all processes involved with alienating lands and water in our territory".
It also warns that provincial employees will be held "professionally and privately accountable" for transactions that don't acknowledge the jurisdictional approach outlined by the court. In Delgamuukw, the Supreme Court ruled that aboriginal rights and titles to traditional lands were not extinguished at the time of colonization. "We want the logging stopped, too. We'll have to sit down with the loggers and talk with them," says Chief Ervin Charleyboy, chair of the tribal council, which represents native Indians who comprise six bands in the Chilcotin.
The Chilcotin demand is the most recent signal that perceptions of the political landscape for treaty negotiations in BC have been radically altered by the Supreme Court's ruling in the Delgamuukw case. Thursday, the Sechelt band, considered the most moderate in treaty negotiations between First Nations and the governments of Canada and BC, announced it was going to court to assert its co-sovereignty over Crown lands in traditional territories on the Sunshine Coast. And last weekend, the Songhees band warned prospective purchasers of any Crown land remaining in downtown Victoria not to expect compensation if title turned out to reside with the band.
Today's conflict in the Chilcotin was triggered by a private application to buy some unsurveyed Crown land so that a local rancher could expand a hay field. The tribal council says it is not interested in blocking the individual rancher's needs. "The chiefs have said they want to maintain a good rapport with the settlers," said Don Wise, issues coordinator for the council. "We think we're going to provide them with a better form of government than they have now." But the tribal council says that on the basis of the Delgamuukw decision, it will no longer accept unilateral or arbitrary decisions in any of its territories. The letter says that unilateral actions in the area where the Tsilhqot'in claim jurisdiction will be considered "a serious provocation."
"In the past it has been the fiduciary obligation of Crown Government to act in the interests of the Indian people of Canada. Now it is also a legal requirement. Please avoid unnecessary unpleasantness by taking both of these responsibilities seriously." The Tsilhqot'ins' traditional territory ranges from just west of the Rocky Mountains to just east of Anahim Lake and from just south of 100 Mile House to just north of Quesnel.
The Chilcotin War took place in 1864 as gold seekers flooded up the Fraser River into the Cariboo. Resentment has festered since six Tsilhqot'in war chiefs were lured to a peace parley in Quesnel under a flag of truce and then hanged.
Tsilhqot'in National GovernmentMore information on the BC Treaty Commission (BCTC):
102-383 Oliver St., Williams Lake
via BC, Canada V2G 1M4
Phone: (250) 392-3918
Fax: (250) 398-5798