General Overall History
Archeologists have found evidence that Aboriginal people have been living in British Columbia for at least 10,500 years ago. They discovered tools made of stone, spear points buried in the ground and old hunting camps. It was evident that they were hunters. They developed their own languages. People from the coast had the rain forest to provide them with trees to make canoes, weave clothing rope and so much more. They had great fishing opportunities. Discarded clam and oyster shells are still found by archeologists. The people who lived in the interior differed from those living at the coast. It was colder in the winter and hotter in the summer. They moved around a lot in order to find game to hunt. Instead of large homes, they lived in lodges or pit houses made of animal skins.
The Carrier people inhabited the north-central area of British Columbia. The area of land they controlled was colossal. Their land spread from the Coast Mountains all the way across to the Rockies, a territory 500 km across. As well, the land spanned up, 300 km from Takla Lake and down to the Chilcotin plateau. This area is covered with dense forests of fir, spruce and pine. Lakes, streams, swamps and rivers are spread out all over British Columbia. The region varies from slow rolling hills in the Blackwater area to enormous mountain ranges along the eastern border.
In 1869 the government enacted a law to disenfranchise of the First Nations people, so they were forced to give up property rights and voting and encouraged the people to integrate and assimilate to the Canadian society. In the 1876 the government created a set of laws known as the Indian Act. It created its own definition of what an Indian band should be. It had rules for who could be a member of a band, who could be a band chief and what powers a band chief could have. This law was passed against the will of the Carrier people.
In 1871, British Columbia joined Canadian confederation and Canada assumed responsibility for Aboriginal matters. Three years later the first Indian Act merged all laws relating to the First Nations people and shortly after the government prohibited the use of nets in freshwater by distinguishing between food and commercial fishing. In 1927, the Federal Government introduced an Indian Act. They prohibited the Natives from organizing to discuss land claims- an offence punishable by fines or jail.
Before the stampede of miners in 1860s looking for gold, it was the people of the land who discovered gold on the banks of the rivers. They would bring the precious metal to trade. Traders and Aboriginal people partnered in the fur business. In exchange for furs, the traders would supply the First Nations people with tools, blankets, kettles, guns to name a few. They also provided food for the traders and guides. Without them the traders would not have been able to survive. Most traders spoke English and French and in order to have a dialogue between the First Nations and the traders a language called “Chinook” was developed. It was a mix of English, French, Aboriginal and some entirely new. Then in 1862 a sailor infected with smallpox arrived in Victoria from California. It spread to the interior and one third of the Aboriginal people in British Columbia died.
When the Europeans came to British Columbia they did not understand how the Aboriginal people made their living from hunting and fishing. They didn’t understand the potlatch. They thought it evil, thus in 1885 the government banned the practice and it lasted for 65 years. In 1951 the government decided to make it legal once more. The settlers also took possession of Aboriginal territory and imposed new laws and government; they treated the Aboriginal people as outsiders in their own land.
During WWII, seventy Carrier people served in the armed forces of Canada and it was only after the war, they were allowed to vote in provincial elections and much later in 1960 that they were given the right to vote in Federal elections. The negotiations for land claim agreements started in 1973.
In 1982 The National Indian Brotherhoods was renamed to Assembly of First Nations- Chiefs would get together from all over Canada. That same year a constitutional conference on Aboriginal issues was held and the Pears Commission report resulted which read “Indian fisheries policy cries out for reform... in this context I perceive several urgent requirements to clarify and strengthen Indian fishing rights; to enable Indians to become involved in fisheries management; to provide opportunities for Indians to take better economic advantage of their rights; and to improve the administrative and enforcement arrangements.”
A decade passed and in 1992 British Columbia, Canada and First Nations established the B.C. Treaty Commission and one year later over 40 First Nations submitted statements of their intent. The First Nations people want the question of land use and control settled in such as way as to recognize their heritage and provide them with means to live as distinct people with respect and honour.