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Why Is Canada Promoting Stolen Timber Products?

A report to the Unitarian Church on Chief Art Manuel's talk on January 20, 2000, by Keith Jobson. Keith Jobson is a member of the Unitarian Church and an ARC board member.

Perhaps you were not aware that Canada, the Province of British Columbia, and others promote the sale of stolen timber, but as Chief Art Manuel pointed out in an address at the University of Victoria, January 20, of this year, that seems to be the logical conclusion to be drawn from the uncontested facts. What are the facts?

First, the Supreme Court of Canada, in 1997 ruled that aboriginal people have aboriginal title to their traditional territories, unless such title has been extinguished.

Second, in British Columbia and in some other parts of Canada, that title has not been extinguished.

Third, Aboriginal title includes right to occupy and use the land in question, including the resources on that land, i.e. trees.

Fourth, Where the Federal or provincial Crown or other persons infringe on aboriginal title or use the resources without their consent, the taking is unlawful and subject to compensation.

Fifth, following the Court ruling in Delgamuukw, the First Nations in B.C. stated that they had no intention of claiming rents or other compensation for lands, such as homes, businesses, already purchased and owned by individuals and other persons, but they did expect the Crown to implement Delgamuukw on so called ¦Crown¦ land, although it is equally aboriginal land, since Delgamuukw.

Sixth, everyone agrees that Crown title does not displace aboriginal title, but rather, aboriginal title is ¦a burden¦ on crown title. The challenge is how to deal with both titles, without extinguishing one or the other.

Seventh, in the two years since Delgamuukw the Crown has continued ¦business as usual¦ and timber and other resources continue to be trucked out of Aboriginal territories with out First Nations agreement and without compensation.

Chief Manuel fears that the federal and provincial governments have no present intention to implement Delgamuukw.They appear to be flouting the law while promoting the sale of timber and other resource products to their own benefit.

The challenge for Canadians is whether we care that the law is flouted in these circumstances. It is not as though the title holders, the aboriginal peoples, in this instance, are affluent corporations who could well afford to ignore their rights and permit the exploitation of their property. These are the same people who suffer 80% unemployment in their homelands, whose living conditions have been said to be at a third world level, whose poverty has been described by the World Bank as a human rights abuse, who suffer the most grave shortages in housing, and have the highest levels of youth suicide.

As Unitarians we might care for reasons of compassion as well as for reasons of morality, integrity of principle, or for reasons rooted in plain selfishness. All Canadians, even those who do not stand in solidarity with First Nations on aboriginal rights, feel compassion in the face of the demoralizing colonial effects of the Indian Act and the attitudes it fosters.

As for integrity and avoidance of hypocrisy, Unitarians, who are committed to respect the dignity of all persons and peoples, can not turn a blind eye to the continuing Crown failure to implement Delgamuukw and , in effect, be a party to promoting stolen goods.

Unitarians principles also call for promotion of democratic process. In the face of of what appears to be a breach of rule of law, can Unitarians or other Canadians stand by in silence?

The principle of love guides Unitarian, other religious bodies, and individual Canadians in shaping their response to the world around them. We know that in helping one another, we ourselves grow spiritually and re affirm the Oneness of all humanity. Given the historical and socioeconomic context of the Delgamuukw ruling by the Supreme Court, not to mention the legal foundation of the case, how can Unitarians justify a moral failure not to be concerned about the apparent Crown failure to respect aboriginal title?

For those of us who may find utilitarian consequences to be the primary guide in determining our response in this situation we should consider, again, the problem of public policies that inflict poverty and unemployment on the First Nations communities in our midst. Experience teaches us that attacking regional unemployment and poverty has positive spill over effects for all. That is why, perhaps, the European Union, to take an international example, poured over thirty billion dollars into Ireland , to enhance infra structure, etc, prior to its admission into the Union. In helping others, in this global village, we help ourselves. Admittedly, it is difficult to come by objective criteria that consistently prove this point to the satisfaction of utilitarians, but experience and judgment can also be called upon in the face of any uncertainty over the objective data.

Chief Manuel sees the continuing disregard of aboriginal title as a human rights issue. First, to deny an aboriginal people their aboriginal title is to cut them off from their ancestral lands, lands which they believe they hold in trust from the Creator and from which they draw their teachings, their traditional knowledge, and, indeed, their life blood. In this sense, Unitarians and others may also see that denial of aboriginal title involves an attack on religious and spiritual teachings.

From another aspect, failure to respect aboriginal title seems to assume that aboriginal peoples should be assimilated instead. Chief Manuel and others see assimilation as a racist policy and contrary to international legality. Assimilation is European ethnocentrism and colonialism all over again and he stated that he and his people would resist it to the end. In this context he drew a parallel between what appears to be shaping up in Canada and what happened in the United States in the 1840¦s after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Cherokees were a dependent sovereign nation and had aboriginal title to their lands. The President of the day, Andrew Jackson, simply ignored the Supreme Court law and colluded with the State of Georgia to exile the Cherokees to Oklahoma on the infamous ¦Trail of Tears¦. It may be more difficult for history to repeat itself, given the increased awareness of human rights and the pressures that can be brought to bear by the international community today; but we should be aware of the risk.

Chief Manuel asked for the support of all Canadians in bringing pressure to bear upon the federal and provincial governments to implement the Delgamuukw ruling and to end the exploitation of resources on First Nations lands without their consent.

The First Nations are increasing their pressure on the Crown. After facing years of stonewalling from governments, Chief Manuel and the members of the Interior Alliance ( the Shuswap, the Thompson, the Southern Carrier, the Lillooet, and the Okanagan) recently resorted to self help; they unilaterally cut some 80 loads of logs on a parcel of land set aside by the Province for timber bids under the Small Business Program. The Province at first was going to charge the Shuswap with theft, but realized this would not work in the face of a defence of aboriginal title. As a result the Province charged the Shuswap with cutting without a provincial licence under the Forest Act. The Shuswap also ignored provincially based Stop Work orders and a court issued injunction. As a result they are in court, and perhaps their rights will eventually be vindicated, after much legal expense.

In the meantime Chief Manuel asked people to write letters to the Prime Minister and to the Premier of the Province urging the Crown to come to agreements with First Nations, around specific projects, reconciling Crown and Aboriginal title to the resources in question. Agreements to share revenue, management, and provide work opportunities would be examples of such reconciliation.

The Chief also pointed out that persons can make donations to help the Shuswap defend themselves in court. In addition Chief Manuel asked individuals to buy forest products only from those corporations that can show that they have the consent of First Nations for their operations. The Interior Alliance is currently working with the Environmental Defence Fund and others to come up with a certification process that would permit exploitation of resources with First Nations agreement.

In discussion it was pointed out that forest companies themselves could pressure governments to come to agreements reconciling aboriginal and Crown title. To further raise public awareness of aboriginal title, institutions and individual property owners could make an annual public acknowledgement of the underlying aboriginal title in some appropriate celebratory way.

For further information : Chief Art Manuel, phone: (250) 828-9789; email: amanuel@msn.com and web: www.shuswap.org