I rose to share a two minute statement marking the 170th anniversary of the Douglas Treaties in the W̱SÁNEĆ territory.
This February 14 marks the 170th anniversary of the agreement between the first British Columbia governor, James Douglas, and my ancestors, the SIÁM of the W̱SÁNEĆ people. Some history books tell a story that these treaties were land sale agreements, that my S¸ELELW̱ÁÁN gave up our homelands for just a few blankets. The W̱SÁNEĆ tell a different story.
James Douglas was a corporate man, starting at 16 with the Northwest Co. before landing a top job with the Hudson’s Bay Co. The meeting between Douglas and the heads of our W̱SÁNEĆ families that led to the pre-Confederation treaty was to air out two grievances: a dispute over timber harvesting near Cordova Bay and the murder of a messenger boy travelling between two W̱SÁNEĆ villages. The W̱SÁNEĆ took offence to the loss of our relative and the intrusion into our territory and responded with a war party of four canoes.
The historical and ongoing conflict on the land over resource extraction is part of our oral history. The written version of the Douglas treaties does not account for the linguistic and cultural elements, the context that is shared through the oral tradition.
The X’s on the papers — those signatures — were also understood differently. To the W̱SÁNEĆ, those X’s represented crosses, thinking it was a sign of sincerity and honesty, the sign of their god, the sign of the highest order of honesty.
And 170 years later, those treaties are still the only agreements between the W̱SÁNEĆ and Canada, and while this provincial government acknowledges the treaties exist, they do not acknowledge the beneficiaries of those agreements that enshrine the rights to hunt and fish as formerly.
Unfortunately, the conflict on the land in these territories continues. X’s on papers reflect the desire for sincerity and honesty. They continue to be signed with the hope of good faith. The people sitting in these seats, well, we come and go.
Only when the story written and the story shared from one generation to the next are the same story will we deserve to pat ourselves on our back for a job well done.