Descendants of Douglas Treaty signatories reclaim lands

Telling stories is an important part of creating change. Inspirationalstories of people coming together and doing something greater thanthemselves gives others hope that they too can do great things.Luckily, in my work, I have the good furtune to meet incredible peopleand visit fantastic communities accomplishing heroic tasks againstformidable odds, often with little media attention.

The Komoyue are one such people and Chief Alfred Hutch Hunt (Sesaxolis) is one such person.

Together they are standing up and reclaiming land takenfrom them over 150 years ago. They are demanding a stop tounsustainable resource extraction until title issues are resolved. Therevitalization of the Komoyue was celebrated at their ancestral home -Jonathan Hunt Big House at the Royal British Columbia Museum – onTuesday June 28, 2005 (the Komoyue donated the Big House to the museum.)

Whatis inspiring about their story is the hardships they have overcome. TheKemoyue, whose territory encompasses much of northern Vancouver Islandnear Port Hardy, were one of the two tribes that signed treaties with Governor James Douglas on February 8, 1851.

Notbeing able to read, and believing the promises of the government, thechiefs scratched o’s on a piece of paper and months later the terms ofthe treaty were returned to them by ship.

The treaty wassupposed to protect their existing village sites and confirm Komoyuefishing and hunting rights over certain tracts. The tribe was alsopromised that “…the land will be properly surveyed hereafter…”. Inexchange the Komoyue permitted certain resource and mining activitiesto be carried out by the colonial government of the day.

We allknow how the rerswt of the story goes–it is all to familiar, but noless dishonourable. Their communities were devastated by small pox andthe population dropped from 2500 in 1850 to 172 by 1882.

Thisdrop in population is probably one of the reasons why the Komoyue’sland was never surveyed as required by the Treaty. Another reason wasthat a substantial coal seam was discovered in Nanaimo. This shiftedthe focus of the Hudson’s Bay Company (and the government of the day)from coal mining in Fort Rupert to Nainaimo. However, most of thevillage sites the Komoyue used prior to the Treaty remain alienated andthe government never fulfilled its commitment to survey their lands

In1904, the federal government forced the Komoyue to amalgamate with theKwatkuitl and they lost access to their lands and hunting and fishingrights.

Over 100 years later, the decedents of the originalsignatories of the Fort Rupert treaties are reclaiming their rights andlands. In a moving ceremony at the Royal British Columbia Museum, ChiefSesaxolis and his relations celebrated their renewed authority with afeast and celebration. Dances of welcome, purification and celebrationwere shared along with the wisdom of Elders and supporters.

NDPleader Carole James, new NDP MLA and NDP critic of Aboriginal issuesScott Fraser, and Earl Belcourt, vice-president of the AboriginalPeople Commission in BC, were honoured guests.

The Komoyuehave taken the next step in what is sure to be a difficult journey. Butfrom the resolve I saw in their eyes, I believe they will succeed. Iwas honoured to bear witness.

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