On May 13th, Michael Asch gave a talk entitled “Establishing a Just Relationship with Indigenous Peoples” at the annual general meeting of the Friends of the Nemaiah Valley. FONV has been working hard to raise awareness about political, legal, and ecological issues in the Nemaiah Valley, British Columbia. Three such issues are the wild horse ranger program, the aboriginal title case Tsilhqot’in Nation v. B.C., and the on-going proposals to build a multi-billion dollar open-pit gold and copper mine in the area.
Michael’s talk followed a short presentation from lead counsel in the Tsilhqot’in Nation case, Jack Woodward, who spoke about the current status of the decision’s appeal before the BC Supreme Court and the mounting logistical and financial burdens that lay ahead in protecting Tsilhqot’in aboriginal rights and title through the courts. In turn, Michael offered what he called a long-term perspective and a hopeful message meant to explore possibilities for political relationships based on principles of treaty. Beginning by acknowledging Esquimalt and Songhees priority, he stressed the issues as imminent, reminding the audience that the same fundamental conditions that create the pressing issues for the Tsilhqot’in exist here too and throughout BC and Canada. Focusing the talk by posing an internal and reflexive question, he begins by asking, how do settlers “allow ourselves to be comfortable in explaining to ourselves that, while we benefit from rules that recognize our jurisdiction, we do not apply these rules to the lands of the Tsilhqot’in? In other words, how do we explain that the Tsilhqot’in lands come under the jurisdiction of Canada and BC, for after all these people were here before we arrived?”
And through an engaging and impassioned account, covering a range from settler identity to a condemnation of the BC Treaty Process, Michael focused on settler obligations and constructed a hopeful message about the opportunities that lay before us all, concluding:
Here is what I think. The principles that hold in the treaty relationship are a place to begin discussions with those with whom no treaties are yet made. That is, we need to accept that the policy contained in the Royal Proclamation ought to apply to them as it did elsewhere in the province and in Canada. That is, to act justly we need their permission to settle on their lands, and in that regard we need to begin by offering to them the same provisions we offered to the people of Treaty 8 as understood by Chief Desjarlais. But most crucially, it means that we must acknowledge that we need to make an agreement before we do anything else – hence what is wrong with the BC so called treaty process, for it assumes we are ok already. So I think we ought to begin by offering the same terms as with the treaties: settle on the land, share in responsibility for its care under their guidance, and ensure that no harms come to them in the process. That is certainly an ambitious project and may take a long time. But it is one we need to begin traveling today.
Michael’s talk was met afterward by forceful statements from Xeni Gwet’in First nations Government councillors Roger William and Lois Williams, and Wild Horse Ranger David Setah. Please have a listen to the talk and have a look at the linked information about Xeni Gwet’in and the Tsilhqot’in Nation.