Indian Claims Commission

Indian Claims Commission

June 08, 2006 11:00 ET

ICC Recommends Government Accept Williams Lake Village Site Claim for Negotiation

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - June 8, 2006) - In a report issued today, an Indian Claims Commission (ICC) panel recommends that the federal government negotiate a settlement with the Williams Lake Indian Band concerning its claim to village sites in Williams Lake, BC. Commissioners Alan C. Holman and Daniel J. Bellegarde formed the panel which concludes its inquiry into the pre-emption of two village sites, one at Missioner Creek or Glendale and the other at the foot of Williams Lake.

The Chair of the panel, Commissioner Alan Holman, remarked that "We heard oral evidence from the Elders of the Williams Lake Indian Band and legal arguments from lawyers for Canada and the Band. Based on the balance of the documentary evidence we found that Canada breached its basic fiduciary duties by failing to act when the Band needed land set aside for it."

The panel concluded that the Williams Lake Indian Band had occupied the village sites at Missioner Creek and the foot of Williams Lake at the time of pre-emption and that these village sites were "Indian settlements" within the meaning of the legislation in operation at the time. In addition, the panel concluded that the pre-emption of the Indian settlements around 1861 was not valid pursuant to the pre-emption legislation.

The panel found that the Williams Lake Indian Band had an interest in the use and occupation of the village sites at Missioner Creek and the foot of Williams Lake both prior to the pre-emptions and after the pre-emptions. Based on this interest, the ICC panel concludes that Canada had a pre-reserve-creation fiduciary obligation to the Williams Lake Indian Band, limited to the basic duties of loyalty, good faith, full disclosure, and ordinary prudence or diligence.

The panel found that these basic duties of loyalty, good faith, full disclosure and ordinary diligence were breached by Peter O'Reilly in 1881, when these village sites should have been set aside and recommended as possible reserves. The breach was not rectified later by allotting more reserve land than was originally intended. The panel therefore recommends that Canada accept the village site claim of the Williams Lake Indian Band.

The Williams Lake Indian Band has a long history in the Williams Lake area. Its traditional way of life was based on a seasonal round: the Band would move or camp in regular cycles, depending on the resources that were available in the area, and, each winter, band members would return to their permanent villages, where they lived in sunken structures known variously as"pithouses," "kickwillie" houses, or "quigly" houses.

On January 4, 1860, the Governor of the colony of BC, James Douglas, issued Proclamation No. 15, allowing settlers to acquire, or pre-empt, unoccupied and unreserved Crown land in BC. Indian reserve or settlement areas were prohibited from being occupied. In 1861, Governor Douglas instructed that a 400-500 acre reserve be set aside for the Williams Lake Indian Band, but his instructions were never carried out.

When British Columbia joined Confederation in 1871, the province retained control over its lands and resources, while acknowledging the Dominion of Canada's jurisdiction over Indians and lands reserved for Indians. The intention was for the province to convey lands set aside for the use and benefit of Indians to the dominion. However, the "Indian land question" became a source of conflict between the two levels of government. In 1875, BC and the Dominion agreed to form the Joint Indian Reserve Commission (JIRC) to address the Indian land question and to allot reserves.

By 1879, the Williams Lake Indian Band still had no land set aside for it, and all of the land that the Band had originally settled and lived on had been acquired or pre-empted by settlers. That year, Chief William of the Williams Lake Indian Band wrote a letter to the editor of the British Daily Colonist, protesting the conditions under which his people were forced to live, stating "I am an Indian chief and my people are threatened by starvation. The white men have taken all the land and all the fish. A vast country was ours. It is all gone."

In 1881, Peter O'Reilly, the Indian Reserve Commissioner, visited the Indian Band and set aside 14 reserves for it, with a total acreage of 5,634 acres, including 1,464 acres of pre-empted land purchased from non-native settlers. None of the reserves were located at the original village sites of the Band. In 1894, an additional 168.76 acres was set aside for reserve purposes at Carpenter Mountain.

In 1912, the McKenna-McBride Commission was established to settle the differences between Canada and BC regarding Indian lands. Chief Baptiste William appeared before the Commission in 1914, outlining grievances related to the pre-emption of its village sites and requesting more land due to the rocky nature of the reserves. In 1915, the McKenna-McBride Commission confirmed all 15 reserves for the Williams Lake Indian Band that had been previously set aside by O'Reilly. By the time provincial Order in Council 1036 was passed in 1938, only reserves 1-6 and 15 were transferred to the Williams Lake Band. Reserves 7-14 (the graveyards) were deleted from the list and not set aside.

The ICC was established in 1991. Its mandate is: to inquire, at the request of a First Nation, into specific claims that have been rejected by the federal government or where the First Nation disputes the compensation criteria being considered in negotiations; and to provide mediation services on consent of the parties at any stage of the claims process.

A copy of this release and of the inquiry report is available on the Indian Claims Commission website at www.indianclaims.ca

Backgrounder

Historical Overview - The members of the Williams Lake Indian Band are descended from the Secwepemc or Shuswap people, and have a long history in the Williams Lake area of British Columbia. Their traditional way of life was based on "seasonal rounds" in which they would move or camp in cycles according to the natural resources available. Each winter, the Band would return to their permanent winter villages, characterized by their sunken structures known as "kickwillie" or "quigly" houses. The village sites that are the subject of this inquiry are of great cultural importance to the band.

The Fraser Gold Rush hit in 1858 and white settlers began to move into the area. The colony of BC was established as a result of the gold rush and an ongoing fear of American annexation. In 1859, Governor James Douglas instructed the Gold Commissioner and Magistrate, Philip Nind, to reserve the sites of all Indian villages and lands. These instructions were formalized on January 4, 1860, when Governor Douglas issued Proclamation No. 15, allowing settlers to acquire, or pre-empt unoccupied and unreserved Crown land in BC. The proclamation stated that Indian reserve or settlement areas were clearly prohibited from being occupied. The first pre-emptions at Williams Lake were recorded in 1860. Commissioner Nind reported that the Williams Lake Indian Band was starving in 1861 and asked about the establishment of a reserve for them. Governor Douglas instructed Nind to set aside a 400-500 acre reserve for the Band, but these instructions were never carried out and no land was set aside.

The influx of white settlers into the region resulted in rapidly changing social conditions for the Williams Lake Indian Band. Diseases like smallpox, malaria, fever, measles and dysentery decimated the population of the Band, reducing its numbers by 66 per cent between 1835 and 1890. The rapid decrease of the Indian population also complicated the protection of "Indian settlements," making it difficult for them to maintain a presence in the settlements they had traditionally occupied. The settler population could not understand the seasonal rounds of the band and felt the nomadic lifestyle to be "neither civilized nor a productive use of highly prized land." As such, dispossessing the Indian Band of land required little justification and led to an atmosphere in which the First Nations were misunderstood and ignored by settlers as well as the provincial government.

The pre-emptions in the Williams Lake area continued. In 1871, when BC joined Confederation, the dominion government assumed responsibility for "Indians and land reserved for Indians." However, the province retained control over its lands and resources, the intention being that lands set aside for the use and benefit of Indians would eventually be conveyed to the dominion. Indian land became a contentious issue between the two levels of government. In 1874 the BC government passed its first post-Confederation Land Act. The dominion government disallowed the legislation, since it made no provision for lands for the Indians. The revised Land Act was approved by the dominion government in 1875, even though it still did not meet the standards of protection that the dominion government wanted applied to Indian lands. Overall, the province's position generally favoured the settlers and the province was by and large unresponsive to requests from the dominion government officials and the Indian Reserve Commissioners to limit pre-emptions.

In 1875, both parties agreed to form the Joint Indian Reserve Commission (JIRC) to address the Indian land question and to allot reserves. When the Commission was dissolved in 1878, G.M. Sproat became the sole Indian Reserve Commissioner, with both the dominion and the provincial governments agreeing to his appointment. Neither the JIRC nor Sproat ever met with the Williams Lake Indian Band.

By 1878, all the lots that the Band had originally settled and lived on at Missioner Creek and at the foot of Williams Lake had been acquired by settlers through the pre-emption policy, and the Williams Lake Indian Band still had no land set aside for it. Justice of the Peace William Laing-Meason wrote to Sproat on two occasions advising him of the plight of the Band and the impact the pre-emptions had on its members. Sproat reported to senior officials that the Band's situation was the fault of the province, not the dominion. He also felt that the inaction of the provincial government was influenced by deep race prejudice. He, however, never visited the Band.

In 1879, Chief William of the Williams Lake Indian Band wrote a letter to the editor of the British Daily Colonist, protesting against the conditions under which his people were forced to live: "The land on which my people lived for five hundred years was taken by a white man; he has piles of wheat and herds of cattle. We have nothing - not an acre ... Her majesty sent me a coat, two ploughs and some turnip seed. The coat will not keep away the hunger; the ploughs are idle and the seed is useless because we have no land."

Peter O'Reilly was the sole Indian Reserve Commissioner from 1880 to 1898. O'Reilly visited the Indian Band in 1881 and in his report described the Chief's complaints regarding the delay in setting aside land for his people. He also acknowledged the presence of an "old Indian Church," winter houses and burial grounds at Missioner Creek. He set aside 14 reserves for the Band, with a total acreage of 5,634 acres, including 1,464 acres of pre-empted land purchased from non-native settlers. However, none of the reserves were located at the original village sites, the two areas that are the subject of the inquiry. In 1894, an additional 168.76 acres was allotted at Carpenter Mountain.

In 1912, the McKenna-McBride Commission was established "to settle all differences between the Governments of the Dominion and the Province respecting Indian lands and Indian Affairs generally in the Province of British Columbia." Members of the Commission traveled throughout BC setting aside lands for reserve purposes. In 1914, Chief Baptiste William of the Williams Lake Indian Band appeared before the Commission asking for more land owing to the rocky nature of the reserves and outlined grievances related to the pre-emption of its original village sites. In 1915, the McKenna-McBride Commission confirmed the same 15 reserves for the Williams Lake Indian Band that had originally been set aside by O'Reilly. Provincial Order in Council PC 911 transferred the lands for the 15 reserves to the federal Crown on July 26, 1923. In 1938 only reserves 1-6 and 15 had been transferred to the Band. The graveyards on reserves 7-14 were deleted since the burial sites were on pre-empted lands and the government was unwilling to purchase them.

Legal Issues - In order to determine whether or not the claim of the Williams Lake Indian Band was valid, the inquiry focused on the following questions:



1. What lands, if any, did the Williams Lake Indians occupy as
villages at Missioner Creek and the foot of Williams Lake in or
around 1861?

2. Were any of the villages "Indian settlements" within the meaning
of the colonial and provincial land ordinances and legislation?

3. Was the pre-emption of the Indian settlements in and around 1861
valid according to pre-emption legislation?

4. If the pre-emptions were not valid, would the Indian settlements
have been "lands reserved for the Indians" within the meaning of
the Terms of Union, 1871, and/or the Constitution Act, 1867,
and/or the Indian Act?

5. If the pre-emptions were valid, does the Band continue to have a
reserved interest under the Constitution Act, 1867, and/or the
Indian Act?

6. Did the Colony of British Columbia and Canada have a fiduciary
obligation to protect the Indian settlements for the use and
benefit of the Band?

7. If so, was such an obligation breached?


Findings - ICC Commissioners Alan C. Holman and Daniel J. Bellegarde were members of the panel for this inquiry. The panel reached the following conclusions:



I. The Williams Lake Indian Band occupied the village sites at
Missioner Creek and the foot of Williams Lake during the period
of the pre-emptions.

II. The villages were "Indian Settlements" within the meaning of the
legislation in operation at the time.

III. The pre-emption of the Indian settlements around 1861 was not
valid, pursuant to the pre-emption legislation.

IV. The Band had an interest in the use and occupation of the
village sites in question prior to the pre-emptions and after
the pre-emptions.

V. The panel does not draw any conclusions on whether the Band's
interest in its village sites falls under the definition of
"lands reserved for the Indians" and prefers to examine this
interest in the context of a fiduciary analysis.

VI. The ICC panel concludes that Canada had a fiduciary obligation
to the Williams Lake Indian Band, based on the interest the Band
had in the village sites at Missioner Creek and at the foot of
Williams Lake.

VII. The panel found that the duties of loyalty, good faith, full
disclosure and ordinary diligence were breached by Peter
O'Reilly in 1881, and that the Band's village sites should have
been set aside and recommended as possible reserves. This was
not rectified by the allotment of more reserve land than was
originally intended.


In conclusion, the panel recommends that Canada accept the village site claim of the Williams Lake Indian Band.

Contact Information

  • Manon Garrett
    Communications Coordinator
    (613) 947-3939