Snuneymuxw and VIU Hold Historic Conference

B. McPherson

Chief Douglas White Speaks at Spring Youth Conference

The Snuneymuxw First Nation in conjunction with Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo BC held an historic conference. Before the European colonization of Canada and Vancouver Island in particular, trade and peaceful agreements were made with explorers. This conference sought to deal with those treaties and agreements made before Canada was declared a country.  Pre-Confederation Treaties of Vancouver Island was the focus of the two day event.

Leading up to the conference were lectures on the subject in February, March and April. The two day conference on Thursday and Friday was an intensive educational affair with distinguished national and international experts on treaties and law. Hereditary and elected chiefs attended and lent their wisdom to the gathering.

The BC government is  currently seeking to enact treaties with the First Nations of the province because many land and other claims have never been settled. There are many old treaties across the country that were signed before confederation that were subsequently ignored and forgotten by many.

The pre-confederation treaties of Vancouver Island are also known as the Douglas Treaties, named after the Hudson’s Bay Company head honcho on the Island at the time. Between 1850 and 1854 James Douglas and Hudson Bay employees conducted agreements with the residents to ensure that the trading in what would become the town of Victoria would be peaceful.

It was a most interesting revelation that the head men of the time were induced to sign a blank statement that was later filled in by the company employees. The Vancouver Island Coast Salish people of the time had no tradition of writing, instead depending on oral histories passed through the generations. Their collective remembrances of what was agreed to remained sharp while the written papers were forgotten for many years.

What was also interesting and most disappointing was the lack of participation of some of our local politicians. Sure the usual suspects were there – those that may be considered activists, but in many ways it was like the Snuneymuxw was preaching to the choir.

The people living here before Europeans have remained largely invisible to the general population for too many years. After their populations plummeted from the introduced diseases and the introduction of the Indian Act in the 1800’s, children were removed to the notorious residential schools. Many of the native people slid into despair and hopelessness. Chief Douglas White III Kwulasultun of the Snuneymuxw First Nation acted the statesman when he reiterated what his people were seeking: Recognition, Respect and Justice.

Diseases Introduced by Europeans
common cold, influenza, STDs, tuberculosis, measles, smallpox


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