Landmark land settlement
Canada’s first modern, urban treaty gives the Tsawwassen First Nation control of its land and the chance at a prosperous future
“This treaty will provide you with the tools and authority to take control of your own future.”|
— Jim Prentice, minister of Indian and Northern Affairs
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Songs of the Nass (page 2)
"Well, what happens? Lo and behold a new force appears on
the land. This is what I call the European advent," says Calder, "an
event that altered the lives of native people forever."
The fur trade imposed a new economic order on the land. Before
the white man arrived, the territory was organized under a clan-based
system into resource mountain passes, which the Hudson’s Bay company
and nonnative authorities termed "traplines." They also
named clan chiefs as owners, says Calder. Next came surveyors and
colonial mapmakers, the imposition of reserves, and boundaries for
the administration of resource extraction — first furs, then fish,
minerals and timber — set by bureaucrats of the new order of government
oblivious to the ancient ways passed down through an oral culture.
"Thus began the concept of private property and the decline
of traditional clan and tribal sharing," says Calder. "This
is what’s causing all this tension between the Gitksan and the Gitanyow
and the Nisga’a — a bad idea that we got from the white man."
To fully understand the roots of the current turmoil in the Nass
Valley, you must turn to the beliefs and customs of a distant time.
In 1913, Chief Na-qua-oon headed down the Nass with his wife and
son to take a job at a newly built salmon cannery at the mouth of
the river. Born in 1866, Na-qua-oon was hereditary chief of the
Wolf clan. Nisga’a chiefs were the custodians of the tribal adaawk,
the "true history." It was up to them to ensure that this
history was passed from clan to clan, generation to generation.
But, like his Gitksan neighbours, Naqua-oon’s world had been shattered.
Rain-washed totem poles tilting into the salal marked the ruins
of the once-great houses. The complex framework of songs, stories,
legends and myths that gave shape and structure to aboriginal society
was being torn by recurring epidemics. Since the coming of the K’umsiiwa,
the white man, the number of Nisga’a villages had dwindled from
16 to four. From a population of perhaps 10,000, they now numbered
Into this deeply demoralized and depopulated world came the idea
of restricting aboriginal territory to reserves and giving non-natives
authority over mineral, timber and agricultural zones. Many aboriginal
people became nomads in their own land — some logged, others followed
the cannery trail. Still, they refused to accept the ethnocentric
assumptions of land ownership. From this refusal arose the "land
question" that consumed Na-qua-oon and others of his generation.
As Calder says, the Nisga’a have long defined their territory as
all the land drained by the river and its tributaries. Seeking to
define that under non-native law and governance, however, has set
tribe against tribe, house against house and chief against chief.
Former Gitksan leader Nell Sterritt has spent 25 years exhaustively
documenting the adaawk of his people. His 1998 book, Tribal Boundaries
in the Nass Watershed, outlines the Gitanyow and Gitksan history
of land use. His evidence includes testimony given by Nisga’a elders
before the 1913-1916 McKenna-McBride Royal Commission, a federal-provincial
tribunal assigned to set new reserves and alter the size of existing
Nisga’a elders described their Nass territory "mountaintop
to mountaintop, creek by creek," says Sterritt. "And the
maps and place-name descriptions show that those knowledgeable elders
— some born before 1850 — claimed only the lower third of the
Nass," he says. This, Sterritt insists, was their "mountaintop
In the midst of the hearings, the Gitanyow, a distinct and independent
sub-group of the Gitksan (then numbering several hundred), collided
with the Nisga’a for the first time on the issue. In a 1913 petition
to the Privy Council in England, the Nisga’a claimed land as far
north as Meziadin Lake, well into what Gitanyow considered their
territory. The Gitanyow’s protest had little impact. For various
reasons, the petition was returned to Canada.
That same year, tragedy struck Chief Na-qua-oon. On his voyage
down the Nass, his young son fell from his canoe and drowned.
It was one more burden of sorrow for the survivors of a once vigorous
culture. But the Nisga’a also embrace a belief that what is lost
may yet return. A year and a half after losing his son, a dream
came to an old woman at Kincolith, the Nisga’a village at the mouth
of the river. The dream was so vivid that she stopped a young man
on the beach, insisting he row her the 10 kilometres to Chief Naqua-oon’s
house. Once there, she spoke with the chief’s wife, Louisa. Over
in Nass Harbour, she foretold, Louisa’s youngest sister, Emily Clark,
would conceive a boy. Into that unborn child would enter the chiefly
spirit of Naqua-oon’s drowned son.
DISPUTED WATERS: GEORGES BANK
Border history: For two decades, Canada and the United States were
at odds over fishing rights on Georges Bank, the 3.8-million-hectare
submarine bank between Nova Scotia and Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The
International Court at The Hague ruled on the dispute in 1984, dividing
one of the world’s richest fishing grounds in two. The U.S. was given
five-sixths of the bank but Canada’s segment is rich in groundfish
and scallops. New Englanders, who had fished the entire bank for more
than 160 years, saw the agreement as a violation of their birthright
and continued to fish north of the border. During a 1988 incident,
warning shots were fired toward U.S. boats that failed to stop during
pursuits. In 199 I, the U.S. and Canada agreed to prosecute fishermen
who crossed into each other’s territory.
Status: Resolved. In 1994 the U.S. established a closed fishing
zone near the border to protect declining stocks. As a result, few
fishermen now venture near the boundary.
— Alexandra Stikeman
And so it came to pass that in the summer of 1915, when Emily presented
her husband, Job, with the son of whom the old woman had dreamed,
Chief Na-qua-oon and Louisa came and adopted him as their own, according
to Nisga’a custom.
Four years later, a feast was held at Kincolith. During the storytelling
and passing on of the adaawk, many spoke of the white man’s efforts
to disconnect them from their land and of their steadfast refusal
to yield. The land question seemed an immovable mountain. Then Chief
Na-qua-oon presented the dream child to his fellow chiefs. "I’m
going to send this boy to school where the K’umsiiwa live," he
told them, placing his young son on a table. "And I’m going
to make him learn how the white man eats, how the white man talks,
how the white man thinks, and when he comes back, he’s going to
move that mountain."
Na-qua-oon’s English name was Arthur Calder. And thus, from a landscape
of dreams and prophecies, the long and arduous journey of Frank
Calder began. The child of the old woman’s dream became one of the
first aboriginal university graduates in Canada, the first aboriginal
person elected to a Canadian legislature (he served 26 years in
the B.C. legislature), and the first aboriginal person appointed
a minister of the Crown. Perhaps most important, in 1955 he began
working on setting up the Nisga’a Tribal Council and, true to his
father’s promise, launched a resurrection of the vexing land question.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the mountains, the Gitksan and
Gitanyow were migrating to their present territory in the mid and
upper Nass from the progenitor village of Ts’imanluuskeexs, far
up the Bell-Irving River. Their adaawk tells of struggles with other
tribes to assert territorial control. The struggles appear not to
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Creator. when you think of what our forefathers were doing for treaties, they had vision, us as first nation people, have that birthright, vision. now for modern day treaties to even carry weight, one must see how did we go about it. did we use every tool, ceremony, and the spirit world, or do we just use all the confusion that we have attained over the years and find whats best. too many of our people have not even grasped the power and the wisdom of our ancestors or even use what we already have. Treaties, Treaties, Treaties, think about that for awhile. They have not come from creator. we think and beleive we have done good with these treaties,, when you look at it, its meaningless. its a bandaid for now. in time, all this will be back to how it is, in the meantime, we're just playing a silly game, suffering is going on, our people lie and are lied to, killing, gangs, poor housing, poor reserves, stealing from one another, all these are just games. When we have seen all this, now and in the future as it will get worse, maybe our leaders will use there full potential as a human, a nation, as it has been bestowed among our people, our gift of vision, to see what is there, what can be done. But then the government doesn't see it that way, so why then, shall we be forced to see things within this treaty way.Yet its right in front of us to live our life, and see that what this commotion is really is meaningless. sounds crazy, but thats the difference between seeing what is there, and not seeing, which eventually helps us to understand life in the physical or the spiritual realm. It is both sad and useless, to see what our leaders are doing without consulting with creator. what can we do? fight it? why? Do what we can for now I guess, get what we can, riiiiiiiiiigt.
According to my understanding, there is very few fertile land in the world. The population is increasing, but the fertile land is decreasing day by day. Canada occupies 7% of the world's land but we have limited fertile land. Tsawwassen land is one of the most fertile lands in BC. If we use such a fertile land for other purposes than farming, there will be negative impact in ecosystem. Infrastructure like an airport, port, housing, roads, railway etc should be constructed on a non-fertile land. We have to think sustainable development. So Tsawwassen Treaty is concern only for business purposes - it only tried to make money by constructing a port instead of farming.
The treaty was driven by the Gateway - the provincial plan to expand the port and connect it with new and wider highways. This ignores the collapse of the US dollar, the steep decline in cross Pacific container traffic, the availability of new routres such as the North West passage and the widened Panama Canal and the key role played by the railways in moving transcontinental freight. All these issues are dealt at length in my blog - stephenrees.wordpress.com and on the Livable Region web site
This is typical of the short term thinking that bedevils our political system. We need to take a strategic view of how our world is changing - and how to cope with that. Unfortunately, the appeals to justice in the TFN process have been ignored by the grab for the quick buck. A sad day for Canada and the Tsawwassen, who both deserve much better leaders with real vision
The TFN treaty was done without proper consideration of the Semiahmoo First Nation treaty, the protection of our Agricultural Land Reserve, or the Environment. This is not about giving TFN its due... its about expanding DeltaPort at the expense of our farmland, the Fraser River estuary, and our air quality in a area that shouldn't have been considered for a port in the first place. Tsawwassen First Nations accepted individual cash payouts from the government for signing the treaty and now we will all have to live with the blight of container sprawl on some of the best farmland and most important wildlife habitat in the world.
Just a few miles to the North in Richmond we have another parcel of the prime agricultural land that is currently under the review of the Agriculture Land Commission to be probably released from the ALR and be developed into the mixed residential area - our beautiful 136 acres Garden City Lands. The First Nations people needs are used as a reason for the land to be developed again so they can get their money and we can loose another parcel of the land that could feed our children. Their children need to eat as well - all our children will suffer in the future because the land, once developed, will be lost for the agriculture forever. There is not enough appreciation for the value of the undeveloped land now.
Food security issues and rising price of fuel make the value of the land that is close to our home much higher - now it might be not economically viable and next decade it will be for sure, especially when virgin lands are involved - they can be used for the fast start of the organic farming with much higher prices and unlimited demand.
As Chair of the Lower Mainland Treaty Advisory Committee (LMTAC), I would like to provide the following comments in response to your recent feature on the Tsawwassen Final Agreement, as well as provide another perspective on local government participation in the BC Treaty Process.
“Treaty Advisory Committees” were established across the province in response to local government demands to have a direct voice in the BC Treaty Process. Through LMTAC, Lower Mainland area local governments actively participated as full members of the provincial negotiating team at the Tsawwassen Treaty table since substantive discussions began in 1995. In addition to providing advice and local government perspective on issues, LMTAC participation included having a local government representative at the treaty table during the negotiations. Given the unique complexity of the urban Lower Mainland, it was essential for LMTAC to be directly involved in the treaty negotiations to ensure that issues important to residents and local governments, both municipal and regional, were raised and understood by the First Nations, Federal and Provincial governments.
Treaty negotiations are a long process however, LMTAC strongly supports the objective of treaties to provide certainty with respect to aboriginal rights and title. As local governments, we favour negotiated settlements that have the potential to build relationships rather than litigation that can be just as time consuming and costly.
Negotiations by their very nature require give and take by all sides, and LMTAC’s analysis of the Tsawwassen Final Agreement revealed that a majority (88%) of issues identified by local government were addressed. The Intergovernmental Relations and Services Chapter is an achievement in which LMTAC is proud to have had an active role in development. Tsawwassen’s participation in regional governance structures will encourage understanding and the opportunity for all Lower Mainland local governments to work together on matters of mutual interest. Despite positive efforts on governance matters, LMTAC does acknowledge that, given the nature of negotiations, there were a few issues in which local government interests were not fully met, such as the ‘Specified Lands’ approach to post-treaty additions to Treaty Settlement Lands (TSL), because it removes the requirement of municipal consent, and the exclusion of some portions of proposed TSL from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) without due process.
While LMTAC continues to advocate the need for more public information on the BC Treaty Process, it’s important to note that treaty negotiations, like any other form of negotiations, do require adherence to confidentially given the sensitivity of matters under discussion. Through LMTAC, Lower Mainland Councils and Boards were provided with regular treaty table updates, with some matters restricted to closed sessions.
In recognition of the work ahead in implementing the Tsawwassen Final Agreement, LMTAC is very interested to see a smooth transition into the post-treaty environment, and we believe that our experience as local governments will be a valuable resource to assist Tsawwassen First Nation as it takes on new governance responsibilities.
Mayor Ralph Drew, Chair
Lower Mainland Treaty Advisory Committee
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