June 21st is a day to celebrate the heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding achievements of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. We are grateful for being located on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam people. The importance of the Aboriginal cultures exists in CUS community and throughout Canada. In honour of today’s event, we would like to share some historic facts about the First Nations of our country:
European Colonial Settlements and Fur Trade
Attracted by the abundant cod supplies, Europeans began establishing settlements on the eastern shores of North America in the early 1500s. Soon the British and French colonies developed alliances with the eastern First Nations to exchange European goods such as iron wares and firearms for pelts and furs. Because the fur trade was so profitable, violent clashes often occurred between the Europeans and First Nations until the 1700s. With an exclusive monopoly, Hudson’s Bay Company established trading posts at several major rivers. Hudson’s Bay Company’s monopoly soon fell when multiple companies emerged, one being the Northwest Company. After a decade of violence due to the fierce competition, the 2 companies merged into a new Hudson’s Bay Company.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763
Issued by King George III in 1763, the Royal Proclamation is a document that sets guidelines for European settlement. Even though the Proclamation was initially issued to claim Britain’s territory in North America after British victory in the Seven Years War, it also established a firm boundary where all the land west of this boundary belonged to the Aboriginal people until ceded by treaty. Only the Crown can buy land from First Nations. Most Indigenous and legal scholars recognize the Proclamation as a first step towards Aboriginal rights and title recognition. However, it was developed and written without Aboriginal input and establishes a monopoly over Aboriginal lands by the British Crown. Despite arguments that the Proclamation is still valid in Canada, a large majority of British Columbia has not been ceded by its Aboriginal Peoples. Currently, many First Nations communities in the province are negotiating treaties with the provincial government. These treaties address issues such as Indigenous rights, self-government and use of land and resources.
In residential schools, First Nations children were forbidden to acknowledge their heritage or to speak their own languages, and were often abuse. The goals of these schools were to remove the children from their families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the Euro-Canadian and Christian ways of living. Aboriginal parents who refused to send their children to residential schools faced imprisonment or were threatened with fines. In total, there were 132 residential schools that were established across the country. More than 150,000 Aboriginal children attended residential schools between 1857 and 1996. In 1984, the last residential school in British Columbia closed. In 2007, the Government announced a compensation package that included a common experience payment, an independent assessment process, commemoration activities, measures to support healing and the creation of an Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Commission was to act as an independent body, and to provide safe and culturally appropriate place for those impacted by the system to share their experiences. In 2008, the Canadian government issued a formal apology in Parliament for the damage done by residential schools. Today, we recognize the system was devastating and has created a lot of pain. It is absolutely unacceptable and has no place in our country.
The White Paper
In 1969, the government presented an act to end the Indian Status, the Department of Indian Affairs, existing treaties, and Indian Act. Despite the government’s intention, as described in the white paper, being to achieve equality among all Canadians regardless of ethnicity, language, or history, Aboriginal people across the country overwhelmingly reject the White Paper. The act failed to address the concerns raised by First Nations leaders during the consultation process. Many viewed the act as an approach to avoid government responsibility and assimilate First Nations into mainstream Canadian society. First Nations across British Columbia attended a conference in Kamloops to develop a collective response to the white paper and discuss the ongoing fight for the recognition of Aboriginal title and rights. This historic conference led to the formation of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs whose main focus was the resolution of land claims. Instead of amending the White Paper, the government abolished it.
Constitution Act, 1982 Section 35
In 1982, the Constitution Act transferred the last of Britain’s authority over Canada. Section 35 of the Constitution recognizes and affirms Aboriginal rights, but did not create them as they have already existed before Section 35. Even though the section does not define the rights, over time the Supreme Courts have interpreted to include a range of cultural, social, political, and economic rights. Originally, the section was not in the proposal for patriation in 1980. It lacked reference to Aboriginal rights and had not been consulted with Aboriginal People. In response, many Aboriginal organizations and activists participated in demonstrations, fundraisers, and campaigns to have their rights explicitly recognized in the Constitution. The Canadian government finally agreed to include Aboriginal rights in the constitution after 2 years of advocacy and support from the United Nations and the British Parliament.
In 1985, the Canadian Parliament passed an amendment to the Indian Act to bring gender equality by eliminating the links between marriage and Indian status, remove discriminatory provisions, and give individual bands greater control over their memberships. This amendment allowed around 60,000 people to regain their lost Indian Status. While the bands were able to control their membership lists, the Government still determined status.
National Indigenous Peoples Day
After the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom in 1982, the National Indian Brotherhood, representing First Nations in Canada, called for the creation of an annual “National Aboriginal Solidarity Day” on June 21. After a decade of growing support, the recommendation was brought up again during the Sacred Assembly in 1995. On June 13, 1996, June 21 was officially declared National Aboriginal Day. June 21 was selected because of the summer solstice’s cultural significance and many Aboriginal groups mark this day to celebrate their heritage. Since its commencement, this celebratory day is one of the annual nationwide Celebrate Canada! festivals that are held from June 21 to July 1.
The notes we presented only show a small snip of the extensive history of the Canadian Indigenous People. We highly encourage you visit the sources below to learn more:
Project of Heart – Illuminating the hidden history of Indian Residential Schools in BC
WelcomeBC – B.C. First Nations & Indigenous People
Government of Canada – First Nations in Canada
Haida Nation – History of the Haida Nation
The Canadian Encyclopedia – Timeline, Indigenous Peoples
Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs
Government of Canada – National Indigenous Peoples Day
For the pdf version please click HERE.