BACKGROUND NOTE: Douglas Treaty Conference May 10 and 11, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo
Subject: Pre-Confederation Treaties of Vancouver Island Conference, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo Campus, May 10 & 11, 2012.
Background: “We knew it was our land, we never had any other thought but that it was our land. We used to go out into the islands that were in our territory and fish for sockeye, humpbacks and spring salmon…Well like so many things the way of life became gradually changed. We lost the land somehow. One after another – land, fishing rights, hunting rights were legislated away.”
130 years after they were first enacted the Vancouver Island Douglas Treaties of 1852 were fortified with the entrenchment of hunting and fishing rights as aboriginal rights protected under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Efforts by settlers to displace Treaty First Nations from their lands and rights however continued resulting in the much cited cases: Bartleman, Saanichton Bay Marina, Morris and Olsen, and White and Bob.
It remains a challenge today to Douglas Treaty First Nations to exercise the protected rights due to increased infringement through encroachment and depletion of resources. The rights go beyond hunting on “unoccupied lands” and extend fishing rights to include habitat protection and fulsome rights over fresh and saltwater creeks, estuaries, bays, and rivers that run throughout the territories. It is the lands and the waters that hold the way of life, the cultural history and the teachings that sustain the Coast Salish peoples as distinct First Nations peoples.
Creating real life possibilities means translating the vague terminology of the treaty into contemporary understandings and community practice. What were the intentions of the parties in agreeing to terminology such as to “carry on as formerly” and what were the limits of the “enclosed fields”?
Clo Ostrove, of Mandell Pinder described how vital the Saanichton Bay Marina case is to recognizing rights in the waters. The legal precedents established provide the lead-in for fuller protection of specialized habitat protection. The marina case remains a foundation piece for fuller recognition and respect for section 35 rights that include jurisdiction of First Nations over their lands, their resources and the well being of their members.
Recommendations: Although the conference was conducted in a legal academic research environment it was well attended by First Nations leaders and municipal, provincial, federal representatives. Those who were attending the forum out of necessity of mustering “defense” remained subdued as they began to recognize the validity of modern interpretations that now included “oral history”, discussion of “intentions”, and explored the transformation of the original relationship to guide modern relationships between First Nations, settlers, and other governments.
It remains imperative to continue to evolve the relationships as conditions in First Nations drive the necessity of social change. There is urgency in preparing the future for First Nations communities where 50-70% of the populations are under 24 years of age. Challenges include reclaiming traditional lands, improving conditions for living, improving education and employment, and finding ways to stem the tide of deaths by misadventure, violence, and suicide.
Finding the pathway to self-sufficiency means building on the promises and dreams initiated through treaty relationships.
Prepared by Mavis Underwood, May 14, 2012. 1
1.Saltwater People as told by Dave Elliott Sr., S.D. 63, 1983, p.73.
2 “Honouring the Spirit and Intent of the Pre-Confederation Treaties of Vancouver Island – The Challenges of Treaty Interpretation-1”, introduction to panel presentation, May 10 & 11, 2012.