Key dates in BC First Nation History
Some key dates regarding aboriginal title and rights in B.C.
prepared by Project North (B.C.), 1993, Victoria, B.C.
- before 10,000 B.C.
- Evidence of aboriginal civilization throughout British Columbia
- The Royal Proclamation of 1763 recognizes aboriginal title to lands.
Only the Crown can deal with Indians to obtain their lands. Over time, the Crown's policy
is to obtain such lands through Treaties and compensation.
- First Nations on southern Vancouver Islands agree to share their
lands with colony of Vancouver Islands (the Douglas
treaties). The treaties promise that First Nations can hunt and fish on their lands
and on Crown lands "as formerly."
- The colony of British Columbia is established. The Imperial statute
refers to the territory as "wild and unoccupied." The government of British
Columbia does not enter into treaties before taking land form the First Nations peoples.
- First Nations in B.C. protest the presence of government surveyors on
their lands. The Chiefs assert rights to their traditional lands. They are ignored and
settlement proceeds without treaties or compensation. The province if British Columbia
says that the 1763 Proclamation does not apply.
- The federal government passes the Indian Act, the effect of which is
to place the Indian people in a condition of dependence, as though they were wards of the
- The federal government bans the potlatch, an institution of major
significance to most First Nations in B.C. because of its central role culturally,
legally, politically, economically, spiritually, and ceremonially. The potlatch is a means
of transmitting the laws and teachings of the people.
- The federal government forces Indian children to attend residential
schools, the last of which closed in the 1980s. The residential schools policy tended to
destroy the Indian family, undermine the role of elders, and denigrate First Nations
culture, language, and spirituality. Family breakdown, alcoholism, and other abuses are
linked to the residential school system.
- A few First Nations in northeastern B.C. sign Treaty 8; apart from
the Douglas Treaties which applied to parts of Vancouver Island, no other treaties were
- Nisga'a, Tsimshian, and other First Nations delegations travel to
Victoria, Ottawa, and London to press for recognition of aboriginal title to their lands
and protest reserve allotments. In 1911, 300 chiefs meet the B.C. premier (McBride) in
Victoria, urging recognition of Indian title. Their requests are rejected.
- Federal legislation prohibits aboriginal people from raising money to
press for recognition of aboriginal title in the courts.
- The potlatch ban is dropped. The federal government extends the vote
to Indians. The ban on raising money to sue for recognition of aboriginal title is lifted.
- In a landmark decision in the Calder
case, the Supreme Court of Canada holds that the aboriginal title to land continued
after the arrival of the colonists but federal legislation could extinguish it.
- Constitutional recognition is given to existing aboriginal and Treaty
rights; the content of the rights remains unclear.
- The federal government negotiates land settlements and
self-government agreements with the Inuvialuit in the Western Arctic and with several
other First Nations in northern Canada.
- The courts uphold aboriginal interests in land and resources in
several B.C. cases: Guerin; Meares Island; and the right to hunt and fish for food in the Sparrow case.
- The First Nations Summit organization, the province of British
Columbia and the federal government set up a Treaty Commission to settle lands questions
in B.C. and negotiate self-government agreements.
- In the Delgamuukw case, the B.C. Court of Appeal holds for the first
time that aboriginal interests in land survived the colonial period and continue to exist
in B.C., protected by the 1982 constitutional amendment.