The Same Old Colonial Rule:
BC Liberals Increase Attacks on Indigenous Rights
By Aaron Mercredi
“We are standing up for our human rights and our indigenous rights.”
- -Nicole Manuel at July 15th press conference
On July 15th, Nicole Manuel, a young Secwepemc mother of two was released from Allouette Correctional Facility for Women after serving 30 days of a 45-day sentence for defending her inherent right to Secwepemc territory. The incident in question was a 4-hour roadblock on August 24, 2001 at Skwelkwek’welt, which prevented access to the Sun Peaks Ski Resort. Four other Secwepemc people, Trevor Dennis, Rose Jack, Mark Sauls, and Rod Anderson are still serving their sentences for their participation in the roadblock. Sun Peaks ski resort was built on unceded Secwepemc territory, near Kamloops, which has never been surrendered or handed over to the government of Canada.
Family, friends and supporters of arranged a press conference at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre for Nicole the day she was released from prison.
Nicole’s father and spokesperson for the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade (INET), Arthur Manuel, opened the press conference by explaining Canada’s brutal role in suppressing indigenous people’s sovereignty over their land and resources. In its own colonial Supreme Court of Canada, aboriginal title and rights are recognized. “In the constitution of this country, it recognizes and acknowledges aboriginal treaty rights,”Art Manuel said. “Yet when our young people go out and exercise those rights, they are thrown in jail. And when Canada throws our young people in jail, what they’re doing by depriving them of their liberty, they are violating their human rights. Canada is no different than any other country in the world that throws people in jail for their own self-interest and their own political purposes.”
Nicole Manuel spoke next, thankful to be out of prison. She talked about the attacks that the government has made on her and other Secwepemc defenders. “The one main thing that I spent my time thinking of is all the incidents at Sun Peaks, at Skwelkwek’welt, all the experiences of my children. They were there. They experienced things that you think would only occur in war-torn countries. They’ve had their house demolished. They’ve had to return home to find their house torn right to the ground. They’ve had their churches, their sacred sweatlodges, demolished and burned. They’ve had to witness, their mother, their aunts, their families, arrested and jailed. The places where they gather their food, their berry-picking spots, totally desecrated. Nothing left. And these are interests that the government is protecting at the cost of our freedom. And we’re the indigenous people of this land. This is our homeland.”
Rick Quipp, a fisherman from the Cheam Nation, who has been involved in Cheam struggles over fishing rights against the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, explained that the struggles of indigenous people against the government of Canada are universal “…whether it is to fish or to hunt or to pick berries to survive.” he said. “Then we go in to courts facing the corporation of Canada, the government saying that we can’t and they will not put up with us. They institutionalize us for things that we believe are our right to do.”
Messages of support and solidarity were brought both from Professor June McCue, from the First Nations Legal Studies Department at UBC, as well as from Tara Scurr, a BC-Yukon organizer with the Council of Canadians.
BC Liberal Government continues Colonial Attacks on All Fronts
All over the province of BC, the rights of indigenous people are being trampled. This is most clear when we look at the outright theft of indigenous land and resources and the vicious repression of resistance to this theft and plunder. In the case of Sun Peaks Ski Resort, more and more Secwepemc land has been stolen since its initial development, and if Sun Peaks and the government of BC have their way, this will continue on into the future.
In 1997, the BC government approved a $70 million expansion of Sun Peaks, inflating the resort from 4,000 beds to 20,000 beds, and developing previously untouched Mt. Morrisey. This expansion now totals $285 million; an expansion that is going through without the consent, or even the participation, of the Secwepemc people who hold title to all of the territory onto which Sun Peaks is spreading. Since developments began, Secwepemc people have set up the Skwelkwek’welt Protection Centre at the entrance to Sun Peaks and have continued to assert their inherent rights to their land. The wave of repression that the BC Liberal government has brought down on the Secwepemc defenders has resulted in over 54 arrests of Secwepemc people, mainly youth and elders.
Secwepemc people are not the only ones who have responded to attacks by the provincial government by directly using their land in the face of massive developments.
Since 2000, St’at’imc people have set up a permanent camp in their territory near Melvin Creek, located between Mt. Currie and Pemberton. Known as Sutikahl, the camp was set up to assert St’at’imc rights to their land and to stop the BC government and corporate plans to build the $500 million Cayoosh Ski Resort in the untouched alpine mountain area. For the last 5 years, St’at’imc people have occupied the threatened territory despite government and corporate plans to go ahead with the deal.
The interests that the government is trying to protect when it attacks the rights and sovereignty of indigenous people over their mountains are the same interests they are protecting when it attacks members of the Cheam First Nation over fishing rights on their waters. Recently, members of the Sto:lo Nation and Cheam Nation had their fishing nets seized by Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) officers and were threatened with charges for harvesting salmon in their unceded territory. Cheam people have resisted attacks on their waters many times within the last few years and have confronted the DFO directly to defend their sovereignty. This new wave of attacks is a continuation of suppressing indigenous rights over this area of the Fraser River.
Hypocrisy of the BC Liberal government
The hypocrisy of all the attacks being waged by the governments of BC and Canada in regards to land disputes within BC is that almost this entire province, 97% of it, is unceded indigenous territory. Almost all of the land was not handed over in any treaty, or surrendered to the Canadian state. Land that doesn’t belong to Canada does not belong to BC, and the provincial government does not hold legal jurisdiction over unceded indigenous territory. We see the government dealing with this by trying to push through the treaty process, and trying to get indigenous nations to sign over what they have left, so that it can consolidate the territory within BC. While the BC government is trying to push through land deals on paper, we see this consolidation of land taking place in its most naked form through the direct theft of indigenous land and resources and suppression of indigenous people who defend their sovereignty over their territories.
The Right to Fish, the Right to live off the Land are Inherent Rights of Indigenous People
British Columbia, like all other provinces within Canada, is facing an economic crisis. It is dealing with this crisis by attacking all marginalized, poor and working people within its borders. For working people, this means cuts to social programs, cuts to welfare, attacks on unionized and non-unionized workers. For indigenous people, this means a continuation of denying their self-determination, while speeding up the theft and destruction that have been caused by the colonial governments of BC and Canada since they were formed. For indigenous people to assert their rights to their land and resources, it is really a matter of survival. To put food on the table, to gather resources from their land, these are essential rights that indigenous people hold to survive as people and as nations. The government is directly attacking these rights and the only way to fight against it is by doing what indigenous people have been doing when coming under attack: fighting back and asserting their rights to their land. Non-indigenous people need to recognize that these rights are inherent to indigenous people whose land is occupied by Canada and BC. In recognizing this, we need to support indigenous peoples’ resistance to the theft and destruction of the government of Canada and their call for self-determination.
Back to Article Listing