Opinion: Treaties with First Nations don't stand the test of time
""A treaty, of the kind discussed here, is a white man's certificate of a transaction, initiated by him, to unburden the land of its Indian ownership. Being written in the white man's language, it tends to incorporate his concepts of polity and probity...."

Those words were written by Wilson Duff in the late 1960s and published in B.C. Studies in the fall of 1969 under the title The Fort Victoria Treaties. They tell us in a few well-chosen words why we still make such little progress in framing treaties to satisfy those who lived here for a few thousand years before the white man arrived to pitch his tents, build his first cabins, houses, villages, towns and cities and hustle the natives into "reserves."

Duff, one of the early voices calling for greater understanding of British Columbia's first citizens, points out that that although Hudson's Bay factor and later colony governor James Douglas may have had the best of intentions towards the natives, he never really understood who and what they were. Much has changed since then -- and much remains the same.

In the time of Douglas the natives were, well, just "Indians." In the Victoria area, they were originally "Songish" or "Songhees." Duff notes that although the native inhabitants were grouped under one tribal heading by most white authorities, "they were never in any political sense a single tribe."

Douglas himself appears to have recognized "family" differences when it came time for him to get down to wrestling ownership of the land from the natives to enable the Crown to resell the land to more settlers. He invited 11 different groups to the land-sale negotiation table, and over a two-year period signed "treaties" with each of them, with nine of them signed and sealed in two days in April -- the 29th and 30th -- in 1850."

Get the Story:
Jim Hume: Treaties don't hold up under history's microscope (The Victoria Times-Colonist 10/31)

Related Stories:
Doug Cuthand: Respect the treaty framework with First Nations (10/29)