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Land claims
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Land claims
Special treatment
Indian title
Native organizations
Living conditions
Resource use
Legal status
Indian culture

1a) I've heard that native people claim most of the land in British Columbia.

Yes, there is a lot of land in B.C. whose title remains under dispute but native people do not seek a resolution that would push non-natives out of their homes and businesses.

The exact nature of each settlement will be a matter of negotiation between native nations and provincial and federal governments. Natives have repeatedly stressed that they are not seeking fee simple title to the property of individual British Columbians.

Native people want the question of land use and control settled in a manner that recognizes their heritage and provides them with the means to live as distinct peoples with respect and honour.

Most native nations in B.C. have lived here from time immemorial. For thousands of years their traditional lands have been both homeland and holy land. From the perspective of their history, it is only recently that Europeans came and declared that the land belonged to European peoples. The vast majority of B.C. was taken neither by negotiation nor warfare.

1b) How did the disputes over land get started?

When James Douglas was governor of the fledgling colonies called Vancouver Island and British Columbia, the initial procedure was to settle issues of land title according to British policy of the time - natives held original title and so needed to be treated with and compensated before any of their land could be settled or used for other purposes. Unwillingness by colonists to pay taxes toward treaty settlements, combined with an influx of Americans in search of gold who were accustomed to dealing with Indians in another manner, and it relatively easy for Douglas's successor, Sir Joseph Trutch, to move policy away from recognition of aboriginal rights.

Trutch engaged in a deliberate policy of misinforming British officials concerning the amount of land allotted to native people and moved to completely deny Indian title, based upon a mistaken conception that natives had limited use or need of the land. As a result, very few treaties were signed with the First Nations in B.C. - a situation very different from the rest of Canada.

The perception that the claims of the First Nations have no basis and are extravagant has also been fostered by selective use of land claims figures by some B.C. politicians.

1c) Where did the 110% figure that is often heard come from?

In the 1983 election, Premier Bill Bennett said that native people were claiming 110% of the land in the province.

While the statement was meant primarily for political impact, the figure has stuck in the "popular mind." Like many exaggerations, it contains a kernel of truth.

In some title disputes two native groups claim jurisdiction over the same territory. Thus, when the total acreage of individual claims is summed, it appears natives claim title to an unrealistic amount of land. A final solution to such questions will therefore have to involve negotiations between the two concerned native nations, and then the provincial and federal governments.

In July 1990, the provincial government changed the course of its land claims policy and announced:

The time has come for British Columbia to join the Federal Government and Indian people at the negotiating table, to ensure there is a just settlement of Indian land claims and to protect the interests of British Columbians in any negotiations.

1d) Why are there so many native groups standing in line to deal with land questions?

According to the federal government process, only six comprehensive land claim cases can be negotiated at a time. ( Comprehensive claims deal with larger issues deriving from aboriginal title. Specific claims can be made against the federal government relating to the administration of Indian assets or to the fulfilment of Indian treaties.)

Since 1973 the Federal Office of Native Claims has accepted 19 separate comprehensive claims in B.C. Additional claims have been filed but not yet accepted. Only one claim, that of the Nisga'a people, had been taken to negotiation. (The Nisga'a have been seeking a resolution of this matter for over 122 years. The recent agreement on a framework for negotiation took 17 years and there is still a long way to go. Some negotiators estimate that it would take until 2250 to settle all currently accepted claims using the current process.)

Other native groups living in areas of disputed title have sought, for a variety of reasons, resolution to the land question in other ways. For example, the Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en nations together have pursued their land concerns through the courts, completing presentation of their case in 1990.

Native groups and provincial officials agree that a new process for settling the land question ion B.C. must be developed with the federal government.