Excerpted with permission from Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call by Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald M. Derrickson (Between the Lines)
This issue of The Volcano is dedicated to examining the BC Liberal legacy; one central and often overlooked aspect of the BC Liberal reorganization of life in the province is its ongoing assault on Indigenous people. The BC Treaty Commission began under the NDP – which held power under Glen Clark during the story excerpted here – and has been wielded as an aggressive tool of termination of Indigenous title under the BC Liberals. No one knew this better than Art Manuel, who passed away suddenly earlier this year. In this excerpt from his recent book, Manual recollects the role of the BC government in the Secwepemc struggle against the theft of their territory, Skwelkwek’welt, by Sun Peaks resorts. While attacking low-income and working people in BC, the BC Liberals have also paired these attacks with an ongoing campaign to dispossess Indigenous nations of their lands and title. – Editors.
The issue was Nippon Cable’s Sun Peaks development. [R]apid expansion had not been part of our protocol with Sun Peaks, and now this instant city was being implanted on our territory. This land-devouring project was fed by a government land giveaway scheme that sold our Aboriginal title land to the developers at a rate that accelerated with the pace of development. The more land they developed, the more they were given.
Janice Billy, an activist member of our community who was then working on her doctorate in education, informed me that the Elders and youth had gotten together to put up a small protest camp in Skwelkwek’welt. This action fit with the strategy of proving our title on the ground, and I instantly supported it.
The protest remained peaceful while we tried to initiate meaningful negotiations with Sun Peaks to accommodate our traditional uses and legal rights to the land. We were not successful. The company said it had the approval of the province and that was all that was required.
The following June, the conflict began to escalate when the B.C. Assets and Land Corporation issued a lease to Sun Peaks for the land our camp was located on. Sun Peaks then sought an injunction and, in July, the police moved in and arrested four of our people, including two Elders, charging them with criminal contempt for refusing to leave the camp. Our people then set up the Skwelkwek’welt Protection Centre at the entrance of Sun Peaks ski resort to monitor environmental damage, to inform visitors and investors of the ongoing unresolved land issue, and to assert their title and rights to unceded lands.
Over the next several years, five Skwelkwek’welt Protection Centres, two traditional cedar bark homes, a hunting cabin, two sacred sweat lodges, and one cordwood house-home to a young Secwepemc family-were bulldozed or burned down by the resort or by persons unknown. None of these acts of were investigated by the police, who, we noticed, were increasingly acting like hired security guards for the resort.
[A] cabin in the woods that the protesters were living in was burned down, and our people began to receive threats of violence if we entered nearby towns. After fanning this local anger, the resort began leading a call for mass arrests of the protesters and went back to the courts to get another round of injunctions against us. Once again, Elders and youth were arrested. It was infuriating for our people to see eighty-three-year-old Irene Billy led away in handcuffs for the crime of occupying her own family trapline.
The criminalization of my people continued with more than fifty arrests for inhabiting our own land. It was the Canadian state and its industrial developers at their very worst, brushing aside Canadian law and our constitutional protections and using the police more as goons than as peace officers. The Canadian government reaction to our legal rights has been similar to the nineteenth-century approach of U.S. president Andrew Jackson, who, when Supreme Court Chief Justice Marshall ruled that the Cherokee Nation had title to their lands and internal sovereignty, said, “John Marshall has made his decision- now let him enforce it.” The Cherokee were then marched out of their lands on a Trail of Tears.
Fortunately, the twenty-first century is far from the nineteenth and our people, whether the government wishes it or not, are not going to be marched anywhere.