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August 8, 2000
July 7th, 2000
Aboriginal Title Alert
Victoria, British Columbia
It was lunch hour, but the classroom at the University of Victoria's downtown campus was still full. No one was darting for the door. All eyes and ears were focused on the speaker at the front.
Chief Art Manuel, Chief of the Neskonlith, Chair of the Shuswap Tribal Council, and Spokesperson for the Interior Alliance was --- serving up some food-for-thought to a hungry lunch time gathering. They had an appetite all right, for learning about the 'Native Question', as one of them called it.
A familiar theme in the questions was, 'What do the First Nations Really Want' ... presumably prompted by all the treaty talk in the news these days, or perhaps I should say the lack of treaty talks, as the news focuses on the province and more and more First Nations walking away from the negotiations.
Chief Manuel's menu for this thought-provoking noon hour presentation included, aboriginal rights, constitutional rights, court decisions favourable to First Nations, and how to exercise those rights.
Manuel's model of settlement agreements has less to do with money and everything to do with opportunities for self sufficiency for the Shuswap people. "We want to share in making decisions that impact us." He wants them to become managers of the resources on their traditional lands, and create employment opportunities. To him a settlement agreement, "...doesn't look like a 6/49 thing. I'm not interested in big huge cash things."
Not so many months ago the Shuswap Tribal Council decided to cut trees. The British Columbia Government called it illegal logging on Crown land. But the Shuswap know it is their traditional land and they have rights on their land. Chief Manuel was here to remind people the Supreme Court of Canada said so in the historic Delgamuukw decision in December of 1997.
But in 1999, the First Nations began receiving strong signals from the BC Government that progress was next to nothing in the formal treaty process. The time had come for 'direct action'. The chain saws began to buzz loudly in the forests and the court actions were fast and furious. "It was a big step for us to get out on the land", proclaimed Manuel proudly.
"Logging is an act of freedom", he told the gathering that included the Chief of the Songhees First Nation - Robert Sam, in whose traditional territory the talk was being delivered. But mostly the several dozen people who made up this audience were non-aboriginal --- students, civil servants, and retirees.
What's really going on in 'Indian Country'? "We're seeing real change, and we're going to see more of it happen", promised the chief as he recalled the feelings he and others experienced when they began to exercise their rights in the woods, "..breaking down the reserve boundaries." But he also recalled attending the recent World Trade Organization WTO fiasco in Seattle. As a reality check he asked some questions when he was there, "Do you own the trees? Can you be a bona fide member of the World Trade Organization when you're dealing in stolen trees?".
Woody Underwood of Tsawout had words of praise for Chief Manuel and others who seem to reflect more of the spirit, strength and 'arrogance', of the Indian leaders of the Sixties, like the late George Manuel, Art's father.
For more on the historic Delgamuukw decision on aboriginal rights. Click on the highlighted words