Premier's Tsilhqot'in meeting a sign of real change for BC

Rafe: Premier’s Tsilhqot’in meeting a sign of real change for BC?

Premier's Tsilhqot'in meeting a sign of real change for BC
Tsilhqot’in Chief Roger William and Premier Christy Clark meeting in Vancouver today (Damien Gillis

This is the story of change.

Premier Christy Clark is to be congratulated for going to the Nemiah Valley and meeting with the Tsilhqot’in First Nation leaders about their position on land claims now that they have won a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision.

It is easy to say “about time”, except that same criticism could be applied to several premiers, going back years. I believe this is the first time a BC premier could have made such a visit and that we all had to have a very big wake up call before such a commitment was possible.

Move significant for all British Columbians

There is no question that this signals quite a change in the attitude of the current government. It also, however, signals quite a change for the people of British Columbia.

I can only relate my own experience – which I have done – which was a long, slow epiphany from the attitude I started out with as a boy in British Columbia to what I have now.

They didn’t teach us this stuff in school

I grew up in a very traditional background in the 30s and 40s. I’m not going to relate now what our attitude towards “Indians” was because it would be insulting. Suffice it to say we had no understanding whatsoever of the aboriginal peoples of British Columbia.

This is not surprising when you consider that we learned absolutely nothing about aboriginals when we went to school. That’s not quite true, we learned all sorts about aboriginal peoples in Ontario – the Algonquins, Iroquois, Huron and so on. That’s because we all used Eastern textbooks. As to the Haida, the Shuswap, or Musqueam, we were totally ignorant.

My ignorance carried on until very recent times. My observations tell me, however, that I did very little other than reflect the views of other British Columbias who were, like me, moving – at a glacial pace, perhaps – towards a better understanding of what aboriginal peoples stood for and what they meant to our overall community.

Series of legal victories changed the game

Much of the learning process came with pails of cold water from the court system. Decision after decision taught us what the Constitution of Canada plainly said but we did not believe. Many of us did not like what we originally heard.

In my own case, I can say that the light went on and I realized that it didn’t much matter what any of us might have wished the Constitution said, we had to live with it as it was. As time went on it became pretty clear to me and I’m sure to many others that we ought to be respectful of the Constitution because it was in fact right, where we had been wrong.

We simply took the land

As I thought about it, it was not rocket science. The Europeans had come to British Columbia and simply taken the land that they found, created their own land registry system – and Bob’s your uncle. That this was not satisfactory ought to of occurred to us a long time ago but didn’t. It all seemed so right. We had conquered them, hadn’t we?

In fact we hadn’t, and even if we had, modern international law does not regard conquest as the end of the matter. In any event, the laws we as Europeans had made bound us  to adjust our views and recognize native title.

We have reached this point where we must adjust and we must make accommodations. We have no choice but to accept the fact we cannot do as we please with native land or disputed land. And that, in my view, is as it should be. That premier Clark has recognized this and is making moves towards establishing lines of communication is a very good thing.

Mount Polley a game-changer too

There has been another companion change which I have seen in my lifetime and it’s been a very subtle one. Not long ago, Premier Clark, after the Mount Polley disaster, flew over the lake and made the idiotic statement that she would make it pretty again.

Perhaps that wasn’t so idiotic after all because she probably touched a nerve with all of us. Impossible though it may be to change the topography of the area, we all felt the loss of the beauty concurrent with the dam disaster. Perhaps we couldn’t do anything about it and maybe it was silly to pretend we could, but we very much wanted it cleaned up and we were angry about our loss.

People starting to care

For most of my life, industry has been able to move in and tote up the value of the area in terms of timber, minerals, and so on, and the value of the beauty of the area was not part of the equation. We never thought we could quantify a beautiful mountain, lovely lake, or a gorgeous ocean shore. Those things were there, they were ours, but they were not quantifiable in terms of monetary value. As a consequence we simply accepted the fact that they would be impaired or destroyed. We didn’t like it, but we had no choice.

That has slowly but surely changed. I live in Howe Sound and the people of my area are appalled at what may happen to us if there is an LNG plant in Squamish, the trees of Gambier island destroyed or a rock quarry goes into the mouth of McNab Creek. It is not just the traditional concerns that are being expressed – it is the aesthetic values that are front and centre and being expressed in strong terms.

Companies have never understood this nor have the governments that they run. If you were to speak to somebody like the big-mouth easterner, Joe Oliver, minister of finance, who is always flapping on about how BC must accept these desecrations, you would see an indifference to such things as the beautiful mountains, lovely oceans, lakes and so on. That simply does not compute in the minds of people like Oliver, nor the prime minister. These are just not factors to be considered.

Corporations will have to face change

It is much different with the people and changing every day. While Enbridge and Kinder Morgan are stunned at the attitude of people towards their trees and rivers, they and their client governments will have to change. They will have to change because people have changed and insist that those changes they recognized.

People change – perhaps “evolve” is a better word. British Columbians have altered their views on questions of aboriginal peoples and the quantifying of our beautiful surroundings which, just as timber and minerals, have a value. Those changes are new and permanent.

The governments and industry are going to have to adjust to that.

Lead lawyer in Tsilhqot’in Williams Case presents alternate history of BC (from 2008):


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at

16 thoughts on “Rafe: Premier’s Tsilhqot’in meeting a sign of real change for BC?

  1. .. have a nice life John Roe.. and thanks for edifying us per your Little Bo Peep diploma from the Flanagan/Harper skool of thoughtlessness and opinionation.
    Can’t quite figure why you limited your verbose ego diarrhea to only 3 self serving hysterical excretions.. but hey.. you sure delivered your message..
    It kind of had a bent hysterical Rob Anders froth to it.. epic nonsense

  2. Wow! The undercurrent of racism that courses through some comments on Rafe’s heartfelt apology to our First Nations benefactors sends a queasy shiver through my entire being.

    When Chief Dan George (Geswanouth Slahoot) of the Tsleil-Waututh, Coast Salish people
    chided “When the white man came to our country, we had all the land and he had all the bibles. Now he has all the land and we have all the bibles.”, he was relating, albeit in what seemed to be a humourous aside, the result of his people’s misfotune in accepting the ‘whiteman’ and his wiles.

    His ‘centenary’ speech to us in 1967 speaks volumes and should not be ignored or forgotten.

    I was born and raised in the heart of ‘Huronia’ and was taught very little of the history or life of the FN’s all around me, other than their isolation on several nearby ‘reserves’ where I just assumed is where they wished to be even though their presence, past and present, was everywhere to be seen around me. I had ‘Indian’ friends that I met through sports and family, but strangely never as classmates in school, the reasons for which I learned much too late in life.

    In the 1960’s I was lucky enough to visit the Queen Charlotte Islands (how ‘telling’ is that?) now of course known by all as Haida Gwaii, and was immediately taken by the strength, beauty, artistry, industry and sheer nobility of the Haida people relative to the oppressed and humiliated natives of my youth.

    The difference, in part at least, reflects that the Haida and as I now know, the many other First Nations of BC never surrendered their heritage of land and all its spiritual meanings as received from their forbears in trust for their descendants, to the meanness and bully bluster of the white invasion inflicted on their eastern brothers and sisters.

    So, yes Rafe, it is the land and all that entails, that is the measure of a man, and a sacred duty to not let it be defiled by avaricious interlopers.

    It is my belief that Christy Clark does not, will not and can not grasp this essential fundamental responsibility, and does not, will not and can not speak truthfully from the heart and should treated with due respect and an abundance of caution by all First Nations of BC.

    1. “…the Haida and Tlingit, were traditionally known as fierce warriors and slave-traders, raiding as far as California. Slavery was hereditary, the slaves being prisoners of war and their descendants were slaves.” (

      O, what a Noble People! How sophisticated! I sure wish we evil, stupid Europeans had never abandoned the Ancient Earth-Custom of enslaving prisoners of war and keeping their children as perpetual chattel! You aboriginal supremacists need to give your heads a shake. All cultures are mixed bags—I’ll take plastic, open-heart surgery, universal suffrage from the “white” culture, maybe some cool myths from the “aboriginal” culture, but the idea that aboriginal culture is sufficient is barmy. _Maybe_ the reconstructed 21st century aboriginal culture is, but that’s only because evil europeans have done things like criminalize slavery. Bad, evil europeans!! How dare you rob the indigenous north americans of their slaves!!!!

    2. Thank you for sharing your own experience in colonial Canada, Ron. Heartfelt, reflective and educational.

      Chief Dan George had a way of boiling things down into humorous, poignant and relatable aphorisms, didn’t he.

      I treasure the picture I have of my own (white) grandfather, who has owned the Terrace Tillicum Theatre for 40+ years, with Chief Dan at the opening of “Little Big Man” in 1970.

      Today, I have the privilege of working with the heirs to his legacy, such as Sundance Chief Rueben George – a brother and ally in the struggle to keep Vancouver from becoming Port McMurray with Kinder Morgan’s plans.

        1. There is very little point in trying to have a mature discussion about this—the simple fact is that unless one is a nationalist psychotic, one recognizes that one’s land is that which is under one’s feet for the time being. Any more extended estate in land is obviously a social construction. So what we have here, essentially, is one sociopolitical group asserting its right over and above another sociopolitical group. The only difference between Europeans and Aboriginals is that Europeans have a more developed concept of rights and duties—one that conflicts with a lot of the environmental movement’s desire for a benevolent dictatorship to “protect Gaia.” I don’t know if it’s that they think aboriginals are inherently on-side with that agenda or if it is that they think small groups of aboriginals will be easier to run PR on. Either way, it stinks.

          The whole earth is the common inheritance of all humans. Fuck nationalism, fuck tribalism, fuck maternally transmitted psychosis—most of these tribe stories are transmitted by mothers to children who cannot defend themselves.

    1. I meant. It is very important to listen. Our political economy is such that it is very involved with concentrated capital, which makes it difficult to be objective and compassionate.

  3. I admire your optimism Rafe and also respect you a great deal for many reasons. however I cane bring myself to trust the motives of Christy Clark and her reasons for reaching out. She seems to do this a lot, I am hindu, and it usually is no more that her adapting to a situation she knows will benefit her for some photo op or another with no real connection to these people or their concerns. I hope they are wise enough to see through her motives, I trust they will.
    Christy is one of those that can’t quite grasp the meaning of meaningful talk, it will all be gone to her tomorrow.

  4. The reason you did not learn about land title in school is because it is a graduate-level philosophy issue. You also did not learn about string theory, y’know? At the philosophical level, there is a good question as to whether or not land title even exists. How much mass does it have? Is there any scientific method for determining who has title to a piece of land?

    It is seductive, and people have been falling for it for ages, to think that some group, perhaps a small, “pure” group, if given stewardship over the rest of us, can protect us. History proves this to be true sometimes, some places, but inevitably the small group either abuses its power or, due to its size, fails due to outside attack. I can see why environmentalists, drunk on some narrative about the superior environmental consciousness of aboriginal people, might throw in their lot with such a scheme. But I can’t. Hereditary title is contrary to universal suffrage.

    The lands of British Columbia are to be managed by the Parliament of British Columbia. I cannot believe that the progressive inheritors of the women’s movement of last century are so eager and willing to abandon the principle of universal suffrage for what amounts to a landed aristocracy.

    The first session of the legislative council disposes of this matter: Indian families are to receive ten acres, not dominion over the entire province. The Province has a legislated policy for how to settle land claims: determine number of Indian Families in a Community, let it equal X, grant 10X acres of land.

    The apparent “true belief” of many in nationalist narratives of racial/ethnic title to lands should concern everyone. If it was wrong for the British to claim some sort of hereditary right to rule, it is wrong for aboriginals to claim such, too. The problem is the “hereditary right”, not that such was asserted by the British in the wrong place.

    Finally, if we still lived by the aboriginal custom of this land, we would be able to hold people in intergenerational, chattel slavery. If the Haida were allowed to live by their ancient custom, they would have the right to land in Vancouver, capture people and take them as slaves. Beware the notion that aboriginals are superior, more ethical, more conscious of anything than you or anyone else. People are people. People always want an advantage for themselves and their families. It is for good reason the first legislative council refers to “indian families”, not “bands”, “tribes” or “nations.”

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