The Sechelt Indian Band (SIB) went on the offensive last week, saying a step up of litigation against the provincial and federal governments will proceed as their only recourse against their territory’s “death by a thousand cuts.”
“We have been pushed into a corner as our rights have been systematically denied,” said Chief Garry Feschuk.
The SIB’s declaration of title over their traditional territory had sat in abeyance until 2010 when the band began signalling its interest in moving the claim forward.
That move sparked two years of negotiations that Feschuk said bore little fruit for the SIB and its people, who sought to defend themselves against the outside use of lands and resources “without recourse or benefit to [the Sechelt] people.”
One of the central examples of this conflict has been the Pender Harbour docks dispute.
The Sechelt have been in talks with the provincial government to secure a benefit to their people in return for the loss of one of the territory’s traditional villages.
Feschuk said that an agreement with the potential to put that conflict to rest was previously tabled by the province, only to be revoked at a later date.
“We’re not against the residents having docks, we just wanted to reconcile our interest with the government,” explained Feschuk, who added that the government’s attempts to have their claim placed back in abeyance would not proceed without that reconciliation. “We’re just moving it forward now.”
The Band said it is working with other First Nations in the province in order to produce a collective legal response, to take the government to task over the rights and title of B.C.’s Aboriginal people.
“At the eleventh hour, things went backwards yet again,” Feschuk said.
Feschuk said the provincial government scrapping its previous offer to the Sechelt meant the Clark government had accomplished the opposite of their mandate.
Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister Mary Polak did not return requests for an interview, but did provide a statement: “The province always encourages negotiation over litigation. We have been involved in negotiations and explorations with Sechelt for the past two years, and there remains a significant gap in expectations,” Polak said. “B.C. would prefer to work with the Sechelt, to create a climate that will stimulate investment, create jobs and provide economic benefits.”
But from the perspective of Feschuk, there was no gap in expectations when the band agreed to the offer that was later revoked.
According to Powell River - Sunshine Coast NDP MLA Nicholas Simons, the offer would have seen the Sechelt trade rights to their traditional village territory in Pender Harbour for land that included a “sacred burial site.”
“The Province should start showing good will towards the Sechelt Nation,” Simons said. “The government talks about reconciliation, but does nothing to promote it, forcing Sechelt into costly litigation and resulting in uncertainty for everyone else.”