First Nations Object to Canada’s Exclusion of Privately Held Lands from Treaty Processes
Reprinted with permissions from the Coast Salish Gathering News.
Shareholders in TimberWest Forest Corp. voted to sell the company and its landholdings on Vancouver Island to two public-employee pension funds in June, without satisfying the right to consultation and accommodation of the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group (HTG) and nine other First Nations on the island.
“It is a major issue for our communities right now,” said Robert Morales, chief negotiator for the HTG. “We have an ongoing human-rights complaint against Canada, and we are drawing significant support from Amnesty International.
“But while we have these ongoing discussions, these private companies continue to strip the resources.”
In the late 1800s, vast First Nations lands on the east coast of Vancouver Island were privatized and given to a privately owned railway company. Over a century, three major timber companies bought most of the aboriginal lands.
In the modern treaty process in British Columbia, the HGT, which includes six First Nations, and other First Nations were informed by Canada that privately owned lands were not on the table for compensation for land-taking.
“The government has said they are only prepared to discuss the Crown Land, not private land,” Morales said. “But when our land was given to a private railroad company in late 1800s, there was no treaty, no consultation, and no communication. We did not even know it had occurred.”
In 2009, the Hul’qumi’num filed a human-rights complaint against Canada with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. In a major victory for First Nations, the commission admitted the case to the merits stage of the proceedings. The crux of the commission’s decision was the Canadian legal system and the British Columbia Treaty Commission process were completely ineffective in providing adequate remedies for the alleged human-rights violations committed against the Hul’qumi’num indigenous people.
HTG’s complaints remain under active consideration by this international judicial body. Recently HTG submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights the equivalent of a request for an injunction to stop all logging by TimberWest and two other companies under the principles of international human-rights law until proper consultation mechanisms are in place.
The other companies are Hancock Timber Resource Group and Island Timberlands. With TimberWest, the three own 75 percent of the aboriginal territories of the Hul’qumi’num. With the purchase of TimberWest by the pension funds, it is unclear what the new public owner will do, Morales said.
On June 10, HTG sent a letter to the British Columbia Securities Commission expressing its concerns regarding this acquisition, and stating that TimberWest failed to properly disclose information relating to HTG’s human-rights petition before the international legal body. HTG requested that the commission investigate TimberWest’s level of compliance with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and take appropriate steps.
On May 25, HTG, which represents 6,500 members of six Hul’qumi’num First Nations, was joined by nine other First Nations in seeking to protect the human rights of the First Nations on Vancouver Island to their aboriginal lands.
The 15 First Nations, beginning with the six Hul’qumi’num First Nations, are: Cowichan Tribes, Lake Cowichan First Nation, Halalt First Nation, Penelakut Tribe, Lyackson First Nation, Stz’uminus First Nation, Snuneymuxw First Nation, Tseshaht First Nation, Hupacasath First Nation, Laich-Kwil-Tach Treaty Society, which includes Kwiakah First Nation, We Wai Kai First Nation, Wei Wai Kum First Nation, K’omoks First Nation, T’Sou-ke First Nation and Esquimalt First Nation.
— Thanks to Robert Morales for assistance with this article.