Today was crew change day, so for the first time in ages I’m spending two nights in a row in the same place - tied up at the jetty in Port Hardy at the northern end of Vancouver Island.
I took advantage of it, and made a break for freedom after dinner. I couldn’t roam far, as we’re still on SAR standby and the ship needs to be able to sail in half an hour if called on, but I did a 5km or so run through the drizzly streets and paved pathways of the town. Maybe it’s not the most exciting place, but it’s got the mossy forests and rocky beaches that characterize this stretch of coastline and somehow seem to look their best in the rain.
European Colonialism and Canadian Bureaucracy: Why BC's First Nations are in an uphill battle to reclaim their land
Some context to this little story of mine: My mother was a land negotiator for the BC Government from the 1980’s until 2011, and worked for various different Ministries in her career as a public servant. She was the first woman to be at the negotiating table in the province and was well known in her line of work as a woman who worked hard for results, researched the shit out of everything, and was a nightmare for people who got in her way. Some of her biggest achievments, for better or for worse, included purchasing the land where the MacKenzie Overpass is being built in Victoria, as well as working on the Nisga'a, Tsawassen, and Maa-Nulth treaties. After Maa-Nulth was finished, she left the government to work for BC Hydro (The sort of private, still kind of a Crown Corporation that provides BC with almost all of its electricity) and worked on securing the land for the Site C dam before having to take medical leave from cancer. She never returned to the work force again, dying 3 years afterwards.
My mother was very consumed by her work, and it showed in her private life. At home, work was all she could talk about, and I showed a massive interest in her job growing up, considering my interest in politics and social issues that I have had since I was a little kid. This meant that she would talk to me for hours about her job, and she even sometimes told me stuff that was going to make major headlines days or weeks before it happened. I also got to know how her job works and what it takes to do it. I also knew the history of BC very well, as my mom was basically a living history book on the subject.
Long story short, In BC, only 2 colonial-era treaties exist that involve the province and are considered legal; the Douglas Treaties, a series of treaties signed during the 1850’s that covered patches of Vancouver Island, and 1892’s Treaty 8, in the North-Eastern part of the province. James Douglas, whom after the Douglas Treaties were named after, wanted to expand the treaties to cover all of Vancouver Island and, when the island was incorporated into the Colony of British Columbia, all of the Pacific Northwest. He knew that due to the Royal Proclaimation of 1763, the government had to get the lands legally put into treaty unless they wanted the natives to have a legal claim on the land in the future. Unfortunately for his plans, most of the other people in government thought their present system of “just take the damn land” was much better, and the Douglas Treaties were never expanded on. Because of those men and the Royal Proclaimation, 95% of British Columbia is legally considered unceded land due to a Supreme Court case. This case ruling opened up a major problem I am gonna bring up.
In 2009, my family moved out to Victoria’s Westshore communnities from the more central location of Saanich, but my little brother and I still went to school in central Victoria for a while afterwards. During that time, I had go go to my mother’s work after school so she could drive me home afterwards. One day, my mom had me organize the maps that MARR (Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation) use that show which land is legally ceded (coloured in white), unceded and unclaimed by government or private groups (black), and unceded but claimed by the government or private groups (gray). Almost of the map was gray, with some chunks of white. Most of BC is in legal limbo, where the government has had claim on it for almost 200 years, private citizens and organizations have purchased or made claims to said land, but it is also legally not theirs because it is considered First Nations land. For generations, Non-native British Columbians have been living on places that they bought from the government, but could not have since it was not the governments to begin with. If you Don’t live in Victoria, Nanaimo, Port Hardy or that piece in the North-East, your house is an illegal settlement as far as the law is concerned. But we are not gonna just tell everyone in Vancouver to get the fuck off of the Squamish’s lawn because that just isn’t gonna work. This long period of development of these unceded lands combined with the discovery of this legal oopsie only being found 25-30 years ago makes modern treaty work a living nightmare. You have to get the Province, Feds, affected First Nations, and all the private “owners” to agree to terms nowadays to even get the basics of a modern treaty done now, and that is a lot of legal madness to deal with if you are a First Nation group trying to get a claim pushed.
Imagine you are a small band of 50 people, where the systemic racism of Canada has left your community in total poverty since Confederation. You want to be able to fish on the coast your ancestors fished on since time immemorial so your band can have some food and maybe some disposable income, but some logging company owns the territory and won’t let you. You somehow would have to manage the resources to get up there and push 2 seperate governments to validate your claim (spoiler alert, they don’t wanna, because racism) and then engage in years, and I mean YEARS of negotiations to get that land back. This is the situation of most of BC’s 198 First Nation bands. It just is not possible.
I wanted to write this just so people could have a general idea of how insane it is for the First Nations of BC to get their land back when it is literally theirs to begin with. With all I know about it, I personally think it is the biggest shame of modern Canada that we continue to do this to the people who have suffered so much at the hands of governments past and present. @allthecanadianpolitics@fycanadianpolitics, if you wanna signal boost this, since I know how much you guys cover this stuff, go ahead and spread the word!