Monday, July 08, 2024

History of land back, not that it ever went away

Unlike most major Canadian media, the New York Times has recently run a front-page story on the Haida Nation and the implications of its long and increasingly successful campaign to secure recognition of its title to their territory on Haida Gwaii islands. 
Their methodical and painstaking quest came to fruition in May when the government of British Columbia passed a law — the first of its kind in Canada — recognizing the Haida’s aboriginal title throughout Haida Gwaii. No provincial or federal government in Canada had ever willingly recognized an Indigenous people’s title to their land.

Over the next few years, the provincial government’s authority over the land and resources is expected to be handed over to the Council of the Haida Nation, the Haida people’s government.

British Columbia must be the only Canadian province where a government could take this kind of action and survive. In most of the rest of the country -- and in our media, no doubt -- a kind of disbelief prevails, an inability to take seriously indigenous declarations to ownership and control of land and resources.  

But it's coming, not only in places like Haida Gwaii, where no treaty has ever underpinned British Columbia's or Canada's authority to control land and resources. The growing understanding of historians and courts is that the treaties between Canada and indigenous nations were always negotiated as sharing agreements, not surrender agreements (no matter what the written texts filed away in Ottawa say about "cede, yield, surrender.") This understanding will eventually have to be acted upon, hopefully by governments (as in the Haida Gwaii example) rather than by courts, though doubtless nudged upon by court decisions.

In some form, what's happening in Haida Gwaii will happen everywhere: a degree of indigenous control sufficient to provide a steady revenue base sufficient to support indigenous self-government, often in a sharing agreement with Canada and the provinces and territories.

We may not be paying much attention to what's happening in Haida Gwaii. But indigenous peoples across the world are. Even the New York Times is. 

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