In a moving display of unity and strength, more than 2,400 Aboriginal people from all parts of BC marched to the Legislature today, voicing their opposition to the BC government’s disregard of their Rights and Title, and giving notice that they are working together to achieve justice for their land and people.
The Title & Rights Alliance organised the rally, which marked the climax of a caravan of elders, youth, community members and leaders from the furthest corners of the province. The caravan began on May 17, moving across the coast and the north and south interior. More than 1,000 First nation delegates attended a conference in Victoria on May 19, before convening for a feast on the Songhees reserve on the eve of the rally.
After an impressive set of traditional songs drummed and sung from the crowded steps of the Legislature, Chief Robert Sam of the Songhees Nation welcomed the community delegates to Songhees territory. He reminded them that the Legislature stands on lands traditionally used by the Songhees, which the government took from them illegally. He confirmed that the Songhees’ legal battle over the land is continuing. His comments set the tone for the following speeches: anger at past mistreatment of Aboriginal people and lands, and determination to right those wrongs.
All members of the Title & Rights Alliance’s steering committee spoke to the crowd, including new member Liz Logan, Chief of the Fort Nelson band. All the speakers shared in the energetic, celebratory mood.
Despite strong criticism of the provincial government, the mood was not negative; rather, the speakers highlighted the powerful unity that is building among First Nations across BC.
The rally is the first major public event of the Title and Rights Alliance, aside from regional events put on by individual First Nations in February, as part of the first Alliance “day of action”.
As today’s speakers noted, more days of action are to come, each larger than the last, as First Nations start to apply the pressure the government has long feared.
The rally culminates the pressure that is building across BC to stop the government’s regressive approach to managing BC’s land and resources–pressure we have written about in previous bulletins (see part one and part two of a series under way).
The government’s tactics for avoiding its duties to First Nations were highlighted in the day’s speeches, partcularly by Grand Chief Ed John, who mocked the language that BC’s lawyers have used in courts.
The government’s high-handed approach to Aboriginal issues was even clearly underscored by Mike de Jong, Minister of Forests, earlier in the day, when he tried to dismiss the Alliance as a fringe element of dissatisfied First Nations leaders.
The rally demonstrated just how wrong the Minister is. Dozens of First Nations were in attendance, including elders, chiefs, leaders, community members, and children. The leadership of the Alliance includes the heads of the three major groups of First Nations in BC: the Summit, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and the Treaty 8 Nations. In addition, there were leaders from bands that are not part of any larger groups or Tribal Nations. Not for decades has there been such unity across so diverse a range of First Nations.
Unity, strength and determination were the dominant themes of the day. No one from the government appeared on the steps of the Legislature; but we can be sure they were watching, and that they realise they’re not going to have their way with BC’s lands and resources much longer.