Are we there yet? The road to resolution of B.C.’s native land claims is long and tortuous. The Secwepemc (Shuswap) people’s struggle to smooth the path is a example of that grinding work.
The Kamloops Indian Band argues that their reserve has been arbitrarily reduced. All they want is for the boundaries to be as they once were drawn by James Douglas, the Colonial Governor of B.C. Douglas established the boundaries of the K.I.B. in 1859 as a way of avoiding confrontation between gold seekers, many of them American, and the Indians.
The boundaries set by Douglas followed the area of the existing K.I.B. reserve but bigger — further up the North and South Thompson rivers, and including Harper Ranch.
Douglas’ criteria for establishing the reserve boundaries was quite simple. The reserves would “include every piece of ground to which they acquired an equitable title, through continuous occupation, tillage or other investments of their labour ( October 14, 1874).”
And so the boundaries of reserves were set accordingly these criteria. Because of a shortage of survey crews the boundaries were staked by church and government officials, or even the Indians themselves.
After Douglas’ retirement, Joseph Trutch became the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works for the colony of British Columbia. He assumed responsibility for the creation of Indian reserves. The new Chief Commissioner decided correct what he saw as a wrong.
Trutch wasn’t pleased with the boundaries set for the reserves. He didn’t have a high opinion of Indians either. “I think they are the ugliest & laziest creatures I ever saw,” said Trutch (ostensibly he was a handsome, industrious man). As a result, the areas of many reserves was reduced.
Now the K.I.B. wants their reserve restored to its original size. Their preliminary claim for the restoration of their reserve was recently refused by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. But Chief Bonnie Leonard of the K.I.B. is not worried. She told me that “the rejection simply means that more information is required.” Leonard intends to pursue the band’s historical Douglas claim.
The K.I.B. has some compelling reasons for seeking restoration of the original boundaries. They bought Harper Ranch for $7 million. Why should they pay for what is rightfully theirs?
The Neskonlith Indian Band’s reserve was another victim of the “Trutch reductions”. But they are using a different tactic in their land claim of area in the Sun Peaks ski resort region. They have apparently given up hope of restoring the Douglas reserve in favour of the 1997 Delgamuukw court decision.
The problem with the Neskonlith claim under the Delgamuukw decision is that it relies on historical occupancy. “They must have occupied the territory before the declaration of sovereignty, ” rules Delgamuukw.
When I asked Kamloops’ lawyer Frank Quinn about the Neskonlith claim of occupancy of the lands of around Sun Peaks, he said that despite archeological investigations, no evidence of occupancy exists.
“The Delgamuukw case clearly states that the burden of proof for aboriginal title lies with the claiming aboriginal party,” says Quinn. And so far, the Neskonlith have failed to establish a claim.
Quinn grows impatient with the Neskonlith tactics of fear and intimidation under the direction of Chief Arthur Manual. Quinn played a role in the 1997 Protocol Agreement with Shuswap Chiefs. The Agreement, signed by Manual, included economic opportunities for Shuswap bands.
Since then, Manual has abandoned cooperation in favour confrontation, largely on the advice of Chief Stewart Phillip of the Penticton Indian band. Phillip is an expert in confrontation and blockading roads to Ski resorts. It was Phillip who ominously told Much Music to move their proposed television festival at Sun Peaks, “in the interests of peace and public safety.”
I believe in civil disobedience as a means of galvanizing supporters but there must also be a well defined objective. The flaw in Manual’s borrowed confrontational tactic is that, unlike the Penticton band, the road to the ski resort doesn’t go through an Indian reserve.
Confrontation is not a substitute for a well founded legal case. Manual has suggested that he has evidence but so far we have not heard the details. Meanwhile, he risks alienating those who might otherwise support him.