Contemporary Secwepemc Issues:
The paramount issue Secwepemc are facing in the new millennium is the unresolved traditional territorial claims and the colonial Douglas reserve claims. In 1910, the Secwepemc Chiefs presented their position regarding land claims and Aboriginal title, rights and inherent sovereignty in a Memorial to Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier. In the early 1900s the Secwepemc were part of Indian delegations who travelled to Victoria and England to address the issue of land claims. Federally the Supreme Court denied any land claim hearings. The province of British Columbia outright refused to comply on any level.
A united effort was made by the Allied Indian Tribes of BC, through petition and political organization which successfully pressured the Federal Government to create a special joint committee of the House and Senate to hear evidence and make a decision in regard to their claims. The committee side stepped the issue and recommended a $100,000 be spent for the good of Indians in British Columbia. Amendments to the Indian Act prevent any appeal to this decision and prohibited the collection of funds from Aboriginal people for the advancement of land claims which remained in effect until the 20th century. After the depression of the 1930s and WWII all Indian claims were ignored. Finally the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia was formed in 1931 and by 1942 was instrumental in the creation of the Indian Land Commission. Aside from calling for a resolve to Indian claims they sought for First Nations to be recognized as a distinct society with political rights.
For 150 years the Secwepemc have asserted their Aboriginal Title and Rights position, through various measures, both the federal and provincial governments still refused their assertions Two key changes occurred in 1973, the Calder case ruled that Aboriginal title existed prior to Confederation , thereby opening a new era for government and Aboriginal negotiations. Secondly in 1982 the Canadian Constitution entrenched existing Aboriginal rights under section (35), but at the same time favoured individualism rather than collectivism which is a viewed shared by Aboriginal people. Then in 1997, the Delgamuukw court decision, the Chief Justice noted that the Crown was under a moral if not legal duty to enter into negotiations with Aboriginal people in good faith with the objective to reconcile the pre-existence of Aboriginal societies with the sovereignty of the Crown.
Principally the Secwepemc are seeking independence to ensure democratic processes without any external dominance. This means that the First Nations desire a Nation to Nation relationship with the Federal government which provides all the rights, privileges and responsibilities pertaining to nations. The government has decided to address the issue from discussing primarily two issues that flow from sovereignty –primarily Aboriginal Rights and self-government.
BC’s position of denial was redirected in 2006 with the establishment of the “New Relationship” under Premier Gordon Campbell. It is yet to see how a tripartite Aboriginal-federal-provincial structure and jurisdictional issues are addressed. Other primary contemporary Secwepemc issues focus around:
- Aboriginal self-determination and social justice
- Socio-economic measures to end dependency, impoverishment and unemployment
- Protection and retention of language and culture
- Social vitality and development to address existing social problems, health, housing, education jurisdiction and alienation.
Land stewardship and joint management over natural resources are equally important to the Secwepemc that address vital environmental issues such as water degradation, pollution of ecological habitats, endangered wild life species, destruction of traditional harvesting areas, erosion of hunting and fishing. Participation in economic development is sought by the Secwepemc through establishment of their own “Indigenous economies” which focus on sustainable development. These aspirations of the Secwepemc may be met by reforming existing political institutions which are accountable to Aboriginal people, a territorial base, control of their citizenship, continuing fiscal support mechanisms such as control over; membership, land, water, forestry, minerals, conservation, environment, economic development, education, health, cultural development, and law enforcement to name a few. With large areas of shared territorial responsibility and governance, the Adams Lake, Neskonlith and Little Shuswap Bands have logistical issues to address in terms of relationship building, protocols with each other and levels of jurisdiction in dealing with external entities.
One of the areas that the bands are working in collaboration is on the Neskonlith Douglas Reserve Claim which was submitted under Canada’s Specific Claim Policy on March 12, 1996 then rejected in August 8, 1999. The Neskonlith Douglas Claim was appealed and re-submitted on March 20, 2007. Oral hearings will be held June 19, 2007 in Vancouver, BC. This claims exercise provides the bands approaches in developing their traditional territorial framework for interim measures while resolves are sought for their Secwepemc Nation claim and the Neskonlith Douglas Reserve Claim.