Goverment Stops Native Sovereignty in British Columbia (fwd)

Robert Johnson (johnsorl@COLORADO.EDU)
Fri, 23 Jun 1995 08:04:45 -0600

As if the North American Free Trade Agreement was not doing enough
to further impoverish Mexico....

From: Marcel Hatch <>


by Marcel Hatch

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

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

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.

most Aboriginal claims to territory have never been legally set aside.

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 recognized banks 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

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.

BEWARE THE PLUNDERERS. The Indian movements is split on the Treaty
Commission's right to settle claims.

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.''

LAND CLAIMS UNQUENCHED. Trade-offs of national rights are especially
short-sighted because, in many ways, the banks have the upper hand -- by
virtue of their militancy, growing support from allies, and recent court
victories recognizing indigenous communities. And their land claims,
unextinguished after more than 200 years, remain a huge source of strength.

As Chub Pascal, a Lillooet bank member 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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