Tribute to Hereditary Chief Delgamuukw

Feb 10, 2022 | 42-3, Blog, Governance, Indigenous, Legislature, Statement | 0 comments

On behalf of the BC Green Caucus I rose to pay tribute to late-Hereditary Chief Delgamuukw.

[Transcript]

HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM , Mr. Speaker. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’d like to thank the Minister of State for his comments and also the member for Vancouver-Langara for his comments as well.

Today I stand to pay tribute and acknowledge the life and accomplishments of the Gitxsan late hereditary Chief Delgamuukw, also known as Earl Muldon. The late Chief Delgamuukw was a world-famous Gitxsan artist who received a B.C. Lifetime Achievement Award for Aboriginal art in 2009 and was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2010.

[2:10 p.m.]

That name, “Delgamuukw,” will be familiar to Canadians because it is also the name of that landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision in 1997, known as the Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa case, that was to affirm Aboriginal title in British Columbia. In addition, this decision also affirmed the use of oral testimony of Indigenous leaders, a form of evidence that is very well known to me as it was used by my father and his legal team in the early 2000s to successfully defend his rights against this provincial government — also at the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court found that the Aboriginal title encompasses the right to exclusive use and occupation of the land.

I raise my hands in gratitude to Chief Delgamuukw, Chief Gisday’wa and all the hereditary chiefs of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en for their commitment to standing up to the injustices that is at the core of these Crown governments. For 13 years, Chief Delgamuukw, Chief Gisday’wa and their fellow hereditary chiefs fought for the jurisdiction of their territories in northwest British Columbia. They originally launched their case in 1984. In 1991 they heard the ruling of the B.C. Supreme Court, which stated that while First Nations might have had rights, they were legally extinguished when British Columbia joined Canada in 1871.

I and many Indigenous peoples in British Columbia are grateful to Chief Delgamuukw for not being dissuaded by the gross and racist treatment of our B.C. court. A report I read outlined Chief Justice McEachern, who described the pre-contact life of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en as “nasty, brutish and short,” while ignoring Indigenous systems of governance that existed on the land since time immemorial and devaluing Indigenous cultures by saying: “They more likely acted as they did because of survival instincts.”

Despite these awful, racist comments and this unjust treatment, Chief Delgamuukw continued to demand justice for his people. As a result, all Indigenous people, including the W̱SÁNEĆ where I’m from, now know that Aboriginal title has not been extinguished. It exists. It is meaningful. Oral testimony is legitimate. Indigenous rights include land, but also the economic value that can be derived from the land.

So here we stand in this chamber, 25 years later from that ruling, celebrating and honouring the memory of a man who honourably carried that name, Delgamuukw, and all the responsibilities that come associated with carrying a name such as that. I must ask the question. I must ask the question now: has this institution honoured that work over this 25 years? In some respects I think the answer is yes. We have a new law, the Declaration Act, which can fundamentally change the Indigenous-Crown relationship, and that change is happening slowly.

However, this government continues to use instruments entrenched in that old thinking, the thinking that was used by the B.C. court — arguments such as terra nullius and the doctrine of discovery — and is still used by legal teams representing this institution where we celebrate Chief Delgamuukw. Still using those tools to this day. There continues to be conflict on the land based in the northwest of British Columbia. The protests and armed police enforcement continue to this day, even though ministers of this Crown government were contracted to meaningfully dispense that 25-year-old decision.

So in the spirit of the struggle, I’m confident that Chiefs Delgamuukw and Gisday’wa, the late Chiefs Delgamuukw and Gisday’wa, and their colleagues did not withstand the racism and abuse fighting for decades in court for these rights to be acknowledged by this Crown government so that 25 years later the same government with some of the same faces — just in different seats at the table — will still be struggling to uphold the basic findings of the work that Chief Delgamuukw, Chief Gisday’wa and their fellow hereditary chiefs fought so hard for.

I appreciate this moment and this opportunity to highlight the incredible courage and power of Chief Delgamuukw. I raise my hands in gratitude for the courage and dedication that he showed. Our thoughts of the B.C. Green caucus and prayers remain for strength to the family of Chief Delgamuukw.
HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM

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