First Nations - Land Rights and Environmentalism in British Columbia

Fraser Canyon, semi arid country north of Lillooet, St'át'imc Territory. Photo: Anthony Maw (Click to enlarge)


St'át'imc circle, Sutikalh, 28 April 2006.
Photo: Karen Wonders



"Our vision is of a continuing and renewed relationship between St'át'imc people (ucwalmicw) and the land (tmicw)" St'át'imc Statement. "The St'át'imc hold Title, rights and ownership to our territorial lands and resources. We are ucwalmicw (the people of the land). We are a nation, not an interest group" St'át'imc Chiefs Council.

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Direct Actions - St'át'imc Timeline

All St'át'imc communities have seen how logging, mining, railways, hydro projects, roads and resort development destroy their land and waters, leaving them impoverished.

1911 - Anger over the government's pre-emption of reserve lands at Seton Portage gives rise to unified opposition and the Declaration of the Lillooet Tribe, signed 10 May at Spences Bridge, asserting St'át'imc sovereignty.

1914 - McKenna McBride Report. Two St'át'imc complain: T'ít'q'et Chief Ngitásq'et; "Our friends the whites they have been taking our lands away from us and there is nothing left to us and everything that we use they stop us from using it. We think we have a right to claim our rights in this country because we owned the country before the whites came to this country" and Tsal'álh Chief Peter; "The whites, they corral the fish down at the end of the lake ... Now when there was no hatchery, the salmon used to run up here on these lakes and spawn in their spawning grounds. Since they built the hatchery we have noticed that the fish are getting scarcer and scarcer."


John Bull with 40 and 60 lb salmons. Lillooet.
Postcard, c. 1902 (C. Phair)

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St'át'imc salmon fisher at Bridge River, c. 1900.
Photo: British Columbia Archives


1915 - Xaxl'ip Chief Thomas Adolph writes to the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs to protest the railway's destruction of valuable St'át'imc agricultural land: "We think it is only just that we should be paid for the land."

1917 - Sekw'el'was Chief Jean Baptiste hires lawyers to demand compensation from the British Columbia government: "One fact remains incontrovertible: we have been robbed of our land and have not received recompense."

1927 - In the same year that a federal law is passed making it illegal to raise funds to pursue land claims, Lil'wat Chief William Pascal and other St'át'imc travel to Ottawa to protest encroachment on their lands to a parliamentary committee.

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"Indigenous people have a profound knowledge of their local ecosystems and landscapes, developed through each person's own lifetime of observation and experience and built upon many generations of lifelong observations and experiences brought forward orally through narratives, discourse, ceremony, songs, language and names within a given cultural tradition and the territory in which it is situated" Nancy Turner, Not One Single Berry.

"Lillooet Indians drying berries," 1954.
Photo: British Columbia Archives


"Ribes divaricatum Douglas," coastal black gooseberry.
Photo: Lewis and Clark Herbarium

Resource extraction, development, herbicide and pesticide spraying have all laid ruin to traditional St'át'imc berry picking grounds. Lil'wat elder Baptiste Richie reminisced over this loss in 1971: "Where we used to pick berries, oh, they were really plentiful! Right here ... that is where we used to come to pick berries, like gooseberries. Now there are no gooseberries near us ... Now the other berries are the same. They have all disappeared. Now you will not find one single berry there" (L. J. Swoboda, Lillooet Phonology).

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In the mid 1950s, the BC government built a power house at Cayoosh Creek and channelized the creek at the entrance of Seton Lake, causing the destruction of the sockeye runs that had formerly spawned in the lake. This desecration of salmon habitat meant the loss of an important traditional food source (right) and was a hardship on the St'át'imc.

1973 - Lil'wats reaffirm the founding principles of the 1911 Declaration of the Lillooet Tribe (St'át'imc Chiefs Council).

1975 - Fishing nets belonging to Lil'wat elders at Lillooet Lake are seized by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and 53 Lil'wat are arrested.

The Interior Fraser River Coho salmon is vital to the St'át'imc. The disasterous collapse of the species (below) is due to deteriorating habitat and DFO mismanagement.


"Lillooet Indians drying salmon," 1954.
Photo: British Columbia Archives

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Interior Fraser River Coho Salmon (DFO).
Photo: Ernest Keeley


1978 - Nxwisten Chief Saul Terry protests DOF restrictions at the Bridge River Aboriginal fishery by creating a rock painting (below). Chief Saul Terry reiterated his condemnation in an interview recorded almost three decades later: "We should get benefits from the resources that are being extracted from our territory instead of enriching other people" (The St'át'imc Runner, April 2006).

Note: Chief Saul Terry was named as chairperson in the fall 2006 St'át'imc Chiefs Council elections. His considerable experience includes being the first elected president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and its longest serving chief executive. See his biography: Chief Saul Terry.

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1979 - Nxwisten Bradley Bob resists Canadian Department of Fisheries officials and is arrested. The resulting court case resulted in the recognition of Aboriginal fishing rights in BC.

1979 - Lil'wats stop the Canadian Forest Products Company from clearcut logging on reserve land in Mount Currie.

1986 - Lil'wats declare: "The Creator placed us here on our land with the right to self determination. The right to self determination and the right to exist as a people is sacred in our way, and we believe we have that right."

1986 - St'át'imc and Nlaka'pamux protest railway expansion on Thompson River that is ruining salmon spawning beds.


Rock painting by Saul Terry, Bridge River, 1978.
Photo: anon


1988 - At Bridge River on 26 July the Chiefs of the Lillooet Tribe [St'át'imc Chiefs Council] pass the motion to form the Lillooet Tribal Peacekeepers Commission and the Lillooet Tribal Peacekeepers Force to "ensure that the people of the St'át'imc are treated with respect without fear of unlawful imprisonment, harassment, and/or ridicule ... Whereas the Lillooet Tribe requires organized tribal law enforcement for the protection of our people and our tribal territory; Whereas our communities are prepared to establish and practice their jurisdiction and authority over their tribal territory" St'át'imc Tribal Police.


"St'át'imc Tribal Police." (Click to enlarge)
Photo: St'át'imc Tribal Police

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St'at'imc protestors, Duffy Lake Blockade, Mount Currie, 1990.
Photo: anon

"What Sovereignty Means: We are a nation with distinct people, with our own culture, language, spirituality, citizenship, laws of land and nature, and the supernatural! Self governing, with rights to Self determine! Self rule! Home Rule, Co-existence with other nations." Quoted from the 1991 publication Lil'wat Peoples Movement (SISIS).

1990 - St'át'imc blockade BC Rail at Lh7us (Seton Portage) for 100 days to show solidarity with the Mohawks at Oka and to demand Aboriginal Title. RCMP riot troopers with batons and attack dogs swarm the St'át'imc including elders and arrest about 100, many of whom are later jailed.


1988 - Lil'wat Chief Leonard Andrew travels to New Zealand to tell Fletcher Challenge Company officials to stop clearcutting the Stein Valley.

1990 - Lil'wats blockade the Duffy Lake Road to protest clearcut logging and the expropriation of Mount Currie reserve land for Highway 99. They are served with a SLAPP injunction and 63 are arrested, charged and imprisoned pending trial for refusing to recognize or obey the injunction.

"I Want You To Be A Warrior!" Sutikalh Camp.
Photo: M. Stainsby

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St'át'imc basket weavers, Pavilion, 1978.
Photo: British Columbia Archives


"Out of all the trees that left our territory, we didn't see any benefit. Like to the people. There was no resources coming to the people even though it was our land. Nothing. They just stole all the resources." Lil'wat elder quoted in D. Rude and C. Deiter: From the Fur Trade to Free Trade (Status of Women Canada, 2004).

St'át'imc basket collected in Mount Currie.
Photo: Historic Estates Auctions

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Traditional St'át'imc basket weaving from peeled cedar roots is an indigenous form of art much sought after by museums and private collectors (above right). The St'át'imc women seen weaving in the photo above are (from left): Theresa Peters (Ts'kw'aylaxw), Irene Mckay Terry (Ts'kw'aylaxw), Adlina Williams (Lil'wat) and Ginger Alec (Ts'kw'aylaxw).

1991 - Lil'wats blockade a logging road at Ure Creek in February to stop International Forest Products Ltd. from destroying pictographs and desecrating sacred mass burial grounds on Lillooet Lake. 11 Lil'wats are arrested on a SLAPP injunction and seven are given one month sentences.

1991 - Lil'wat Submission (SISIS) on 9 September to the International Court of Justice regarding the abuse of Aboriginal rights at the Duffy Lake and Ure Creek blockades.

1993 - Lil'wats and Nlaka'pamux succeed in stopping the logging of Stein Valley and protecting it as a heritage park.

1997 - Lil'wat elder Lahalus (Loretta Pascal) testifies at the Ts'peten (Gustafsen Lake) Trial on 9 April in support of traditional land rights: "Where did you get your right to destroy these forests? How does your right supercede my rights? These are our forests, these are our ancestors" Survival of Our Nation in Jeopardy (SISIS).

1998 - Tsal'álh set up a checkpoint and camp on 24 November to stop the BC government and Ainsworth Lumber Company from logging the south side of Seton Lake.


Sign at Mount Currie, 1998.
Photo: Carrie McNamara

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1998 - Seven St'át'imc bands (Xaxl'ip, Tit'q'et, Tsk'wáylacw, Nxwisten, Sek'wel'wa'sa, Tsal'álh and Lil'wat) protest the lack of implementation of the Delgamuukw Decision: Highway 99 is blockaded in Mount Currie, Lillooet, and Pavilion. Road 40 is blockaded at Bridge River and BC Rail at Shalalth. See: Delgamuukw Anniversary Protest (SISIS).

"Attention! [right] The People and Chiefs of the St'át'imc Nation are uniting! We are moving back onto our traditional lands to exercise our St'át'imc Title and Rights. The Supreme Court of Canada's Delgamuukw Decision [1997] verifies our legitimate Title to and Rights on traditional lands. By asserting our Title and Rights as affirmed in Delgamuukw we are breaking the chains of the colonial reservation system."


Highway blockade, 1998.
Photo: Carrie McNamara


"St'át'imc Nation Camp," sign next to Cayoosh Creek, 2000.
Photo: Carrie McNamara


2000 - The St'át'imc Nation Camp (left) at Sutikalh is established on 2 May to protect the Melvin Creek from the Cayoosh Ski Resort project. When the project is certified (17 August) by the BC Environmental Assessment Office, a St'át'imc info checkpoint is set up on Highway 99 for 17 hours.

2002 - An Official Complaint on environmental issues and land rights is submitted to the International Olympics Committee.

2003 - P'egp'íg'7lha Tribal Chief Mike Leach calls for respect for the sacred knowledge and lands of the St'át'imc people in a speech presented at the World Parks Congress (read an excerpt).

2004 - St'át'imc blockade BC Rail in Lh7us (Seton Portage) on 15 July to protest its $1 billion sale to CN Rail without St'át'imc consent or consultation. The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs issues a statement of support for this direct action: Callous Disregard of Aboriginal Peoples.

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N'quatqua blockade, D'Arcy, 29 April 2006. (Click to enlarge)
Photo: Karen Wonders

2006 - N'quatqua begin a blockade in D'Arcy on 24 April to prevent the passage of logging trucks. Signs (above): "FRA Exploits Our People" and "You Are in N'quatqua Homelands Within the St'át'imc Nation. Please Respect Traditional Territory, Culture, Water, Animals, Plantlife and Fish."


Helen Peters, N'quatqua blockade, D'Arcy.
Photo: Karen Wonders

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N'quatqua blockade, D'Arcy, 27 April 2006.
Photo: Cindy Filipenko

  Blockade spokesperson Carol Thevarge says that the clearcut logging of 85 hectares of old growth in N'quatqua Territory "is a violation of our title and rights. There was no proper consultation process as far as we're concerned ... It's a great loss to the community. It's a loss for our mule deer range, our berry picking and natural food gathering. It's a loss for the area's wildlife. There are white wolves and spotted owls in that area. Our people are speaking up for those who can't speak for themselves."

The N'quatqua protest camp was dismantled on 24 June and a legal challenge was filed citing CRB Logging and Ainsworth Lumber, both companies notorious in the community for their massive destruction of St'át'imc forests.

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Solidarity bonfire, Lh7us, 27 April 2006.
Photo: Karen Wonders

2006 - Tsal'álh hold a bonfire in Lh7us (Seton Portage) to demonstrate solidarity with the N'quatqua blockade. The bonfire is next to the railway tracks, at the site of the landmark 1990 blockade. Dorothy Alexander (above left) tends the bonfire with her nephews Richard (centre) and Brendan Casper. Gloria Alexander (right) stands with a new Tsal'álh generation under the flag of the St'át'imc Nation.


Tsal'álh solidarity, 27 April 2006.
Photo: Karen Wonders

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