The winds have begun to blow. After a decade of attempting to sit down and negotiate resolution to the “land question,” First Nations are changing direction and adopting more confrontational approaches.
Spurred by the BC government’s attempts to undermine recent court victories, to deregulate, and to privatize natural resources, First Nations from across BC have begun gathering forces. In a series of meetings sponsored by the newly formed Title & Rights Alliance, treaty, non-treaty and independent nations have come together to identify common objectives and strategies. A new wind is blowing, the only question is how big the storm will be.
The next 30 days will be important:
- On May 10-11, the West Moberly and Saulteau bands from Treaty 8 in northeastern BC were back before the BC courts, challenging Vintage Petroleum’s attempts to build an access road and develop a well site into the West Moberly Tract – an important cultural and wilderness area.
- Beginning on May 17, thousands of First Nations elders, youth and leaders will begin a Caravan to Victoria for a historic “Moving Forward in Unity” conference and rally (May 20). Their goal is to collectively notify the BC Government and Industry that the continued infringement of Aboriginal Title and Rights will not be tolerated.
- On May 20 the Gitanyow will be in court challenging various aspects of the new forest legislation as part of their ongoing litigation related to the transfer of the Skeena Cellulose forestry tenures.
The provincial Crown is attempting to mitigate its obligations to Aboriginal people through a variety of “accommodation agreements.” These documents require First Nations to agree their interests have been accommodated in exchange for a token amount of money and access to wood supply.
Many leaders facing extreme poverty and unemployment in their communities have been pressured into signing such agreements. However, opposition to the agreements is growing. Just last week, after a two-day meeting in Kamloops, Aboriginal leaders from BC and the Assembly of First Nations denounced the BC government’s approach, since it requires Aboriginal Peoples to “fundamentally compromise their rights in exchange for limited economic benefits.”
The upcoming Title & Rights Alliance Caravan and rally in Victoria has the potential to be a watershed event in BC history. It will be the first time in many decades that Aboriginal people from the four corners of BC will have made the pilgrimage to the Provincial Capital to demonstrate their frustration, unity and resolve. It will bring together First Nations from across the political spectrum to discuss a variety of tactics to address their interests — treaty negotiations, litigation, direct action, etc. It will not only involve leaders, but hereditary chiefs, elders and youth. It likely marks a new era in political direction for First Nations.
While the outcomes of the litigation and political demonstrations are not yet certain, it is clear is that new winds are blowing. Gusting, blustery winds as yet, but winds that are coalescing into a storm. No satellite can yet predict whether the storm will be a squall, gale or a hurricane. Whatever it is, BC may never be the same afterwards.
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