Wed. Jun 19th, 2024

Canadian Indigenous People (Part 3): Relationships Between BC’s First Nations and New Settlers

This article is Part three of a three-parts-series. In this article, I will provide a general view of the relationship between Canadian Indigenous communities and new settlers throughout history of British Columbia. Part one talks about the general history, culture, and traditions of BC’s First Nations, while Part two talks about Five individual First Nations in BC.

Early Time: Coexisting

Before the mid 19th century, the relationship between Pacific Coast First Nations and European settlers settlers developed differently from that between settlers and First Nations in the Eastern parts of Canada. The commercial aspirations of the Hudson’s Bay Company had overshadowed settlement in British Columbia. With a monopoly of fur trade in today’s British Columbia territory, the Hudson’s Bay Company restricted their diplomatic dealing with Pacific First Nations to commercial or fur trade matters.

From Peaceful to Hostile

Royal Proclamation in 1763 specified that the lands in the “Indian Territories” could be no settlement or trade, and only the Crown could purchase land from any First Nations. The intent of the proclamation was to slow the western expansion of the colonies and control the relationship between First Nations and colonists. Crucially, the Proclamation also became the first official recognition of First Nations rights to lands and title. However, in British Columbia, the settlers and colonists claimed that the Royal Proclamation does not apply to BC since it had not yet been settled by the British when the Proclamation was issued in 1763. This issue has greatly disputed today, as the Proclamation would have applied to BC since British sovereignty was established in the province.

Starting in 1850s, the Hudson’s Bay Company began to change their “Commercial First” policy to a colonist mindset. James Douglas, the later colonial Governor after 1854, signed with various Coast Salish First Nation peoples on Vancouver Island between 1850 and 1854. Under the treaties, the First Nations surrendered land required for settlement around the trade posts in exchange for goods and right to hunt and fish. These treaties broke the Royal Proclamation, which stated that only the Crown could purchase lands and other purchases lands were dismissed.

These treaties were known to laid the groundwork for the creation of the colony of British Columbia in 1859 — A deep and lasting impact on First Nations in the region. Despite making treaties, the colonists and settlers did not intend to keep their promises. They slowly retracted the previous promises made by Douglas, and they eventually stopped treaty-making altogether, showing British Colombia’s reluctance to recognize First Nations land rights.The denial of land and tittle persisted even after British Colombia joined Canada in 1871 and ran contrary to recognition of land and tittle in other parts of Canada.

Legislated Assimilation and Systemic Racism

The Pacific Coast First Nation peoples often are not thought about during this phase of settler development and is the centre of issues still today regarding tittle and rights. In 1876, the Indian Act was introduced — a piece of legislation that would have long-lasting impact on First Nations. Under the Indian Act, the British Columbia government became increasingly restrictive,  intervening in band issues and making sweeping sweeping policy decisions.

The Indian Act was frequently amended nearly every year between 1876 and 1927. The changes made to the legislation allowed the government to impose ever-greater controls on the lives of First Nations, pushing for the whole-scale abandonment of traditional ways of life. For example, in response to the Nisga’a pursuit of a land claim in British Columbia, a new amendment was passed to forbid fundraising by First Nations to pursue land claims without the expressed permission of the Department of Indian Affairs. This amendment effectively prevented First Nations from pursuing land tittles and rights.

The concept of enfranchisement dominated government policy on First Nations for decades to come. More restrictive regulations were made to “assimilate” the First Nations into White Canadian society, allowing the government to exercise considerable powers over their daily lives. With the Indian Act and other regulations limited First Nations’ control over their own affairs, their lives were difficult. Bands could not control over the administration of their communities and over the use of band funds and revenues. Right to vote, pension benefits, and welfare were not expended to them. In addition, the concept of enfranchisement led to a “cultural genocide” — Residential Schools. These schools would force children to abandon their traditional languages, dress, religion and lifestyle.

The imfamous enfranchisement legally stood until 1961. Over time, First Nation peoples have been enfranchised for serving in the military, gaining a post-secondary degree, leaving reserves for long periods – for example, for employment – and, for women, if they married non-First Nation men or if their husbands died.

Growing Recognition: 1980s Onward

Starting in 1950s and following decades of civil right movements, many First Nations organization express their desire for equality with other Canadians and for right to maintain their heritages.

With their efforts, legacy of colonist policies established by the former government become increasingly apparent. More and more stories surfaced regarding mistreatment, as both Canadian government and society call for greater recognition of the Canadian Indigenous peoples. Government acknowledges and commit to address the decades of suffering the First Nations experienced and for the impact the Indian Act, Residential School, and other enfranchised policies had on cultures, languages, and traditions of Canadian Indigenous communities.

Although all levels of Canadian governments have committed to address this legacy, greater measures are needed. Government’s reconciliation seems to framed according to the logic of legitimating state authority rather than offering meaningful restitution for harms committed against First Nation peoples and homelands. Justice needs to come before reconciliation, it seems like a true reconciliation is still far away.

You May be Interested in:

Canadian Indigenous People and Chinese Canadians: Have apologies Truly Established Harmony for Them?

Legacy of Colonzation and Damage of Racism: Disenfranchisement of Canadian Indigenous and Chinese

Hidden Past of Residential School: “The Canadian Holocaust”

Colonialism and Residential School: “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing”

Can Truth and Reconciliation Commission Make Reconciliation a reality?

Reconciliation Policy and Apology in Canada

The Road to Political Organizing and Activism For First Nations

Bibliography

Blatchford, Christie. “Blatchford’s Take: Shame and Disgrace—Canada’s native reserves deserve foreign correspondent treatment,” The Globe and Mail, February 2, 2008. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/canadas-native-reserves-deserve-foreign-correspondent-treatment/article717978/. Accessed 19 September 2021.

Hall, Anthony J.. “Royal Proclamation of 1763”. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 30 August 2019, Historica Canada. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/royal-proclamation-of-1763. Accessed 19 September 2021.

Harris, Cole. Making Native Space: Colonialism, Resistance, and Reserves in British Columbia. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2002.

Milloy, John. Indian Act Colonialism: A Century of Dishonour, 1869-1969. National Centre for First Nations Governance, 2008.

Hanson, Eric. “The Indian Act.” Indigenous Foundations. First Nations and Indigenous Studies UBC, 2020. Accessed 18 September 2021. https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/the_indian_act/.

Hanson, Eric, et al.“The Residential School System.” Indigenous Foundations. First Nations and Indigenous Studies UBC, 2020. Accessed 17 September 2021.https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/the_residential_school_system/#survivors-demand-justice.

“Indian Act”. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 16 December 2020, Historica Canada. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/indian-act. Accessed 19 September 2021.

Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: Looking Forward, Looking back. Volume 1. Ottawa: the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996. 250.

Steckley, John, Bryan D. Cummins, and Xwi7xwa Collection. Full Circle: Canada’s First Nations. Pearson Prentice Hall, Toronto, 2008.

Restoule, Jean-Paul. “Making Native Space: Colonialism, Resistance and Reserves in British Columbia (Review).” University of Toronto Quarterly, vol. 74, no. 1, 2004, pp. 468-469.

“First Nations in Canada. ” Government of Canada. Indigenous Peoples and Community, https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1307460755710/1536862806124#chp1. Accessed 13 September 2021.

“Residential School: A History of Residential Schools in Canada”. CBC News Canada. 2021. Accessed 14 September 2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/canada-residential-schools-kamloops-faq-1.6051632

Encyclopedia, The Canadian. “Women and the Indian Act”. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 11 May 2020, Historica Canada. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/women-and-the-indian-act. Accessed 19 September 2021.

McCue, Harvey A.. “Indian Status”. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 11 May 2020, Historica Canada. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/indian-status. Accessed 19 September 2021.

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