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UBCIC Open Letter to BC Government: Xeni Gwet’in Must Be Acted Upon

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  • Don Bain
    ... Subject: UBCIC Open Letter to BC Government: Xeni Gwet’in Must Be Acted Upon Date: 4 Dec 2007 16:51:22 -0800 From: UBCIC Latest News
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 4, 2007
      -------- Original Message --------
      Subject: UBCIC Open Letter to BC Government: Xeni Gwet’in Must Be Acted
      Date: 4 Dec 2007 16:51:22 -0800
      From: UBCIC Latest News <subscribers@...>

      UBCIC Open Letter to BC Government: Xeni Gwet’in Must Be Acted Upon
      December 4, 2007

      We are all here to stay. We agree to a new government-to-government
      relationship based on respect, recognition and accommodation of
      aboriginal title and rights.

      These words, around which the Government of British Columbia and First
      Nations agreed in 2005 to build a New Relationship, are the essential
      foundation of a positive transformation in the lives of Aboriginal
      peoples and communities, and in relations between the Aboriginal and
      non-Aboriginal inhabitants of this Province.

      From the time B.C. became a province of Canada, the Province has
      operated on the principle of denial – denial of who we are as distinct
      peoples, and of our unique cultures, spiritualities, and methods of
      social organization. Successive governments have denied, and continue to
      deny, that First Nations peoples were here first, that we occupied and
      used our lands and resources, and that we hold Title and Rights
      throughout the Province. The New Relationship must end, forever and
      absolutely, this heinous tradition of denial. Recognition of Title and
      Rights is the bedrock for a respectful, just, and equal, relationship,
      through which reconciliation can take place.

      Meaningful outcomes have simply not materialized from the New
      Relationship. While the rhetoric of recognition is spoken at the highest
      level of government, the status quo of denial is implemented on the
      ground. If this does not change soon, the New Relationship will
      completely collapse, and in its place, we will have more conflict,
      uncertainty, and disharmony. The urgency for real action and change
      could not be greater.

      On Wednesday the British Columbia Supreme Court, in a historic decision
      of singular importance, made it crystal clear that the era of denial of
      Aboriginal Title and Rights must end. In Xeni Gwet’in the Court found
      that that the Tsilhqot’in Nation had established their Title to 200,000
      hectares of their Traditional Territory. On Aboriginal Title lands, the
      Province exercises no statutory and decision-making jurisdiction –
      decision-making authority rests with the First Nation. In reaching this
      conclusion, the Court rejected and condemned the Province’s practice of
      denial, and its impoverished and “postage stamp” approach to Aboriginal
      Title. Further, the Court clarified that ever since joining
      Confederation the Province has been unlawfully occupying Aboriginal
      lands and taking Aboriginal resources. Compensation is owed for these
      past and ongoing wrongs.

      What Xeni Gwet’in demands is immediate action towards recognition-based
      reconciliation. Embarrassingly, and sadly predictably, the Province’s
      initial response to the decision has been the dinosaur of denial. The
      Province’s wish to dismiss the judgment as a non-binding opinion is
      unwise and unhelpful. After the Supreme Court of Canada decisions in
      Delgamuukw (1997) and Haida (2004), the Province insisted that nothing
      had changed. They were wrong. To play that broken record again would be
      to end the New Relationship, and the promise it held.

      Premier Gordon Campbell is quoted as saying the decision makes clear
      that the way to move forward is through negotiations. This is what the
      Province’s indigenous peoples have been saying for generations. But
      negotiations must be based on recognition of Aboriginal Title, and must
      lead to reconciliation. The Tsilhqot’in rejected the treaty process,
      because of its denial-based principles, and went to court and won. The
      existing treaty process is based on ideas and principles from an era
      that our contemporary legal and moral values simply cannot tolerate.
      Negotiations within and without the treaty process must now proceed on
      the basis of recognition.

      Two years ago I worked closely with Premier Campbell in forming the New
      Relationship. It was a leap of faith for him, and for me; and I respect
      him greatly for the choices made. But that leap was a leap of vision.
      Now we are compelled to act. It is time to walk the New Relationship
      walk, and in so doing, create a British Columbia of promise, prosperity,
      and reconciliation for all. If we fail to do that, future generations
      will look back on this moment in history, bewildered by the
      opportunities missed, and dismayed by the hardships we wrought on those
      who had to come after us.

      – 30 –

      Grand Chief Stewart Phillip (250) 490-5314

      The UBCIC is a NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and
      Social Council of the United Nations

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