Aboriginal protest three years later

First Nations are protesting across Canada to draw attention to outstanding land claims and other issues plaguing native communities. Thousands rallied in cities across the country, including Vancouver.

Hundreds of supporters marched from Vanier Park to Library Square stopping to sing and drum along the way.

In British Columbia last time that First Nations united in the streets on this scale to pressure government was the Moving Forward in Unity events in Victoria in May 2004 when over 3,000 Aboriginal people marched on the legislature.

Just over three years ago, the Title & Rights Alliance organized a caravan of elders, youth, community members and leaders from the furthest corners of the province to  voice their opposition to the BC government’s disregard of their Title and Rights and to give them notice that First Nations were united in their efforts to achieve justice for their land and people.

It worked.

As a result direst action like the march and court victories, the next spring Gordon Campbell announced his commitment to a “new relationship’ with First Nations. This led to the creation of a new Leadership Council involving the leadership of the Title & Rights Alliance.

Unfortunately two years later the “new relationship” remains mostly just words on paper. Despite the rhetoric, generally business as usual has continued on contested lands. In fact, extraction rates are spiking. For example:

  • BC’s annual logging rate has reached record levels, increasing by 20% since 1995;
  • Over the last decade the number of oil and gas wells drilled annually has increased by 218% and the number of active wells has increased by 300% over the same period;
  • Mining exploration has increased by almost 1000% since a new government was elected in 2001, there are now 650 active exploration projects and 190,000 claims covering 4,810,000 hectares were granted in 2005, four times more than 2004.

And the talking continues.

The increase in dialogue is a big step forward, especially given the anti-native rhetoric of the Liberal party when in opposition.  But it is not enough for a growing number of First Nations who watch as increasing resource activity destroys their land and exports wealth out of their territories.

Pundits like the Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson, claim the national day of protest will accomplish nothing.  Perhaps, as the Title & Rights Alliance march illustrated, if combined with other tactics, it can fundamentally shift the terms of the debate.

First Nations leaders like Guujaaw of the Council of the Haida Nation and Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs have commented recently that the government seems to respond most quickly when negotiations are combined with lawsuits, financial tactics and direct action.

Most observers believe Premier Campbell is sincere in his desire to build a ‘new relationship” with First Nations. Unfortunately, Campbell has not been able to fundamentally shift the direction other cabinet members who continue to be addicted an economy based on unsustainable commodity resource extraction.

Pundits are concerned that Premier Campbell’s commit to address climate change may get bogged down by the same dynamic.

Does Mr. Campbell have the political skill to shift his government away from oil and gas and logging revenues to fulfill his new relationship and climate change promise?

Only time will tell.

However, what history does show is that if First Nations in British Columbia and unite around a multi-pronged strategy of action the BC government could be forced to move quickly toward sustainable land reforms.

Dogwood Initiative is working with a number of First Nations to make this happen.

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