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Envisioning Reconciliation: Aboriginal Rights and Title

Archival Voices and Sources

Source: 1910 (July) Petition of the Interior Tribes in A Stó:lō-Coast Salish Historical Atlas, 176.

“6th. We ask for, and expect, the dominion government to support us in our claims, and help us to obtain our rights to the best of their ability.
7th. We believe the Indian Rights Association of BC (which has been formed by other Indians of this country) has the same object and claims that we stand for, therefore we declare our agreement with the members of the same, and our resolve to join with them, and support them in the furtherance of our mutual interests, and the attainment of our rights.”


Source: 1912 Petition to Prime Minister Borden in A Stó:lō-Coast Salish Historical Atlas, 179.  

“We want the injustice done us righted. We want to stand on our feet. We were never made for slaves. We cannot lie down and be ridden over. We demand our rights, and we expect your help not only because you are men and chiefs, but also because we are called your wards and children. If you deem it unnecessary that we receive our rights, that it is not necessary that the laws of your kings should be maintained, and that it is well the white man’s word to us should be broken, then tell us.”  

Source: 1913 (May) Statement of Chiefs of the Interior Tribes of British Columbia in A Stó:lō-Coast Salish Historical Atlas, 179.


“We want all matters concerning us arranged fairly, and squarely, so it will be easier for us and our white brothers to get along in this country, and that there may remain no feelings of injustice in our hearts. We have not spoken to you lately, not for over a year – for did you not promise to look into our affairs, and have things right for us. We have been trusting you, and waiting for you. We had told you what our grievances are, and what our wants and needs are. You know what we claim as our rights. You have our petitions. Our white friends have also told you. You know what we have spoken to your government, to the Dominion Government preceding you, to the BC Government, and to England. We need no reiterate all that we have said already. We wish to speak to you only of late happenings.”

Source: 1921 (February) Letter from William Mackell (of the Penelakut reserve) to the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in A Stó:lō-Coast Salish Historical Atlas, 184.

“The authorities here in charge of the Indians, Indian agent & others interfere too much with our rights namely as regards fishing & our old customs in the way of dances etc. In the winter time it is our custom to give our friends food… We do not go fight with one another, but think the Indians should have a little more freedom as in the old days, especially as the old custom will soon die out, but that the older Indians now alive should be allowed to keep up some of the old festivities.”

Source: C. 1923 Presentation by Chawathil Indians to the Government in A Stó:lō-Coast Salish Historical Atlas, 190.


“2. We want complete title to our reserve lands and all therein and thereon and to all lands which may be made reserves and complete possession of same. If any pars of these reserves or anything on them is sold it must be with our consent and the proceeds of the sale of such lands, timber, gravel, etc. should all come into the hands of the Indians. This includes exclusive use of all fore shores of reserves for fishing, etc.
5. .... We must retain some special rights (not exclusive rights) in fishing, hunting and trapping and use of unoccupied crown lands.  


Source: Newspaper clipping signed ‘Old Resident’. Library and Archives Canada. RG 10, Reel C-10117, Volume 3669, File 10 691. “Correspondence regarding the Potlatch and an Indian Confederation in British Columbia (newspaper clippings). 1878 – 1879.”


“Although there were a large number of tribes he quickly saw our safety in the fact that no union existed among them; that the chiefs were envious and jealous of each other, and that there was no “Head Chief” to any nationality of the Province. He saw, too, that the Indians had among themselves tribal rights to every foot of land in the country, and that these claims were cherished and defended with greatly pertinacity, even to their heart’s blood when necessary.”


Commodore, Larry

Activist involved with many First Nations rights and environmental issues, he was also a participant of the Freedom Flotilla’s Ship to Gaza. He is from the Soowahlie First Nation.

Contemporary Stó:lō Indigenous Voices from Social Media

Source: Commodore, L. (2013, Jan 9) Whose Water? A B.C. First Nation Perspective. Retrieved from

“The highest law of the land, the Canadian constitution, "recognizes and affirms" Aboriginal rights and title and finally there's also a B.C. treaty process, as dysfunctional as it might be. These things are supposed to mean something, not to be taken as token gestures to the reality of the usurpation of native sovereignty in this country.” (para. 5)
“There are many good reasons to move on with reconciliation of rights and responsibilities between First Nations on a federal and provincial level. With fresh water in particular, we can't afford to make a mistake. We must get to a better place with other natural resources in this province.” (para. 13)

Gardner, Eddie

A Sto:lo elder of Skwah First Nation, he is the President of the Wild Salmon Defenders Alliance, and doing a lot of work to protect and fight for wild salmon as well as being involved with other environmental activism. His social media presence, specifically on Facebook, is largely devoted to these causes.

Source: Gardner, E. (2019, Feb 11). [Facebook status update] Retrieved from

“...The Inigenous movement is on the rise based on Indigenous Rights, Inherent Rights, and Human Rights, and will remain at the forefront of action against climate change, irresponsible mining, pipelines, fracking and open net pen fish farms...”

Hall, Wenona

Associate Professor of Indigenous Studies at the Universisty of the Fraser Valley and was also the Justice Manager at Stó:lō Nation and a member of the Skowkale First Nation.

Hall, W. [WenonaV] (2015, June 11. [Tweet] Retrieved from

“Reconciliation means recognizing and respecting Indigenous land title...”

Jago, Robert

Jago is a head of an educational firm and writer on numerous different platforms, regularly contributing to The Walrus and CANADALAND. Jago is a member of the Kwantlen First Nation. He shares a lot of his writing and thoughts through the platform of his blog, often making political critiques

Source: Jago, R. [rjjago] (2018, Aug 9). [Tweet] Retrieved from

“Every Native wants to be at the last battle, where we win and restore all our rights & stand on our own two feet as nations again. But our great grandparents started this fight - odds are we’re in the middle, not at the end, & it’s our great great grandkids who’ll raise the flag.”

Contemporary Non-Stó:lō Indigenous Voices from Social Media

Belcourt, Christi

Organizer with the Onaman Collective, working towards resurgence of language and land based practices. She describes herself as “a community based artist, environmentalist and advocate for the lands, waters and Indigenous peoples”. In her discussion of reconciliation she almost always brings it back to the land, saying that reconciliation is not possible without the return of land. She places importance on protecting the land and water and her artwork focuses on these themes. She also talks about language learning and the injustices in Canada’s child services.

Source: Belcourt, C. (2016, Nov) The Revolution has Begun/Published by Onaman Collective [Video file]. Retrieved from

“Canada represents the largest land heist, the largest land theft in the history of the world.” (9:29-9:35)

“We must shift our thinking to have responsibility rather than rights.” (23:00- 23:04)

Bellegarde, Perry

National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations since 2014, he has had many years of leadership experience in various positions. He is from the Little Black Bear First Nation. The vision that he has articulated as the Nation Chief of the AFN is “establishing processes for self-determination; recognition of inherent Aboriginal and Treaty rights; the revitalization and retention of indigenous languages; and establishing a new relationship with the Crown” (AFN, n.d.).

Source: Bellegarde, P. [perrybellegarde]. (2019, Jan 14). [Tweet]. Retrieved from

“Quote from my opening comments at the MOU Meeting on Joint Priorities. ‘Reconciliation will not be achieved through force... When our inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty rights are respected, it is good for all of Canada.’”

Contemporary Non-Stó:lō Voices from Scholarship

Source: British Columbia. (2018) Draft Principles that Guide the Province of British Columbia’s Relationship with Indigenous Peoples. Victoria, BC: Government of British Columbia. Retrieved from

Principle 5: “The Province of British Columbia recognizes that treaties, agreements, and other constructive arrangements between Indigenous peoples and the Crown have been and are intended to be acts of reconciliation based on mutual recognition
and respect.” Page 4
“The spirit and intent of both Indigenous and Crown parties to treaties, as reflected in oral and written histories, must inform constructive partnerships, based on the recognition of rights, that support full and timely treaty implementation.” Page 4
“The Province also acknowledges that the existence of Indigenous rights is not dependent on an agreement and, where agreements are formed, they should be based on the recognition and implementation of rights and not their extinguishment, modification, or surrender.” Page 4
“Accordingly, this principle recognizes and affirms the importance that Indigenous peoples determine and develop their own priorities and strategies for organization and advancement. The Province recognizes Indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination, including the right to freely pursue their economic, political, social, and cultural development.” Page 4

Principle 7: “The Province of British Columbia recognizes that respecting and implementing rights is essential and that any infringement of section 35 rights must by law meet a high threshold of justification which includes Indigenous perspectives and satisfies the Crown’s fiduciary obligations.” Page 5
“This principle reaffirms the central importance of working in partnership to recognize and implement rights and, as such, that any infringement of Aboriginal or treaty rights requires justification in accordance with the highest standards established by Canada’s courts and must be attained in a manner consistent with the honour of the Crown and the objective of reconciliation.” Page 5


Source: Blackburn, Carole. “Producing Legitimacy: Reconciliation and the Negotiation of Aboriginal Rights in Canada.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 13, No. 3 (September 2007), 621-638. 

            Dr. Carole Blackburn is a professor in the Anthropology Department at the University of British Columbia, who focuses on the relationship between Indigenous peoples and settler states, including Canada. In this article, Blackburn discusses two distinct understandings of reconciliation surrounding the Nisga’a treaty in British Columbia. These two understandings or meanings for Blackburn include addressing past mistake (“language of political legitimation”) and then incorporating constitutional protection and recognition of Nisga’a within the rights-based legal frameworks of the Canadian state (“making formerly incompatible rights compatible”). However, while the treaty allowed for legally recognized their rights, social and robust legal reconciliation has failed to be actualized.

“Reconciliation talk links political legitimacy with the state's ability to recognize and overcome its colonial history, but leaves the exclusionary tendency at the heart of modernity’s universalizing pretensions unrecognized. In this respect it produces closure where closure is unwarranted.” Page 622

“In Section 35 the Canadian government acknowledged that aboriginal rights exist but it did not resolve what these rights actually are. Aboriginal rights must now be politically negotiated, as they were in the Nisga'a treaty, or interpreted by the courts.” page 624

“The history does not affirm the teleology of progress and development so much as it seriously undermines it. Processes of reconciliation and reparation, then, can be situated within a broader transformation from a confident modernism, privileging the future, to a less confident postmodernism, haunted by the atrocities of the twentieth century and confronted with a future devoid of the stabilizing narratives of progress... People knew that historically mistakes had been made under the banner of progress and civilization, but they did not extend this into a more critical examination of the exclusions built into modernity and enlightenment philosophy.” page 625

“The Nisga'a treaty does not radically pluralize Canadian citizenship, but it does produce a set of economic, cultural, and self-governing rights for the Nisga'a to which non-Nisga'a do not have access. Negotiators and politicians who supported the treaty defended the premise that aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians could have different rights without threatening the equality of citizens or national unity.’ Page 628


“This requirement that the rights of the Nisga’a be acknowledged in forms and to an extent that can work within present-day Canada leaves the cultural specificity of Canadian institutions unchallenged.” Page 630


“Many people celebrated the treaty as a way for Nisga’a to coexist within Canada without having to assimilate and give up their rights. In significant ways, however, Nisga’a are still faced with having to conform to non-aboriginal institutions and values and subject their rights to legibility according to non-aboriginal legal systems. Canadian sovereignty is also not challenged, and in these respects the treaty does not completely overturn the colonial relationship between Canada and the Nisga’a.” Page 630 - 631

Contemporary Voices Through Recent Interviews

Eddie Gardner (Skwah First Nation) 

“Canada is giving up their sovereignty to corporations. We’re saying, don’t do that! We are the last holders of what we would call sovereignty, in our territory. Reconciliation means holding on to that, trying to influence Canada to keep its own sovereignty. So that they don’t give in to corporatocracy this way. In the biggest context, that’s to me what reconciliation is all about: honour and sovereignty of Indigenous people, of our nation. Especially here in British Columbia, where most of the land has not been given up to treaty. So when they ask First Nations to settle land claims for economic certainty… Reconciliation doesn’t mean right from the get go you give up, you agree to extinguish your rights. Right away, that’s not reconciliation to me. If you want to negotiate land claims, there has to be a way forward where Indigenous people can have their culture, their way of life, the dignity and the human rights to a way of life that they have cultivated for some ten thousand years, having that a good relationships with our relatives in the natural world. If we can’t have that there never will be reconciliation, never.” [00:42:05]

Naxaxalhts’i Albert “Sonny” McHalsie (Shxw'ow'hamel First Nation) 

“They [the Canadian public and BC government] have to change that perspective and acknowledge that Aboriginal Rights and Title is stronger than private land.”


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