Unceded territory is not land for public use

Wednesday, July 15 2020

The debate over the mountain bike trails as first brought up by GaLTT in the June 24 Sounder is actually two discussions conflated (unintentionally) as one.

The first, whether Gabriola should have trails specifically developed for mountain biking. This debate doesn’t need to focus on the lands near Degnen Road, as there are public lands which could be better suited for this kind of development.

On that debate: we should develop mountain bike-specific trails on Gabriola. Within the next two to five years. And hire whoever built the jumps seen in the June 24 Sounder to build such trails.

The second, and far more important debate, is who should be able to access lands on Gabriola which are, in essence, Unceded Territory.

Please note: technically, all of Gabriola is unceded territory, acquired through pre-emption processes by those who ‘settled’ the island. However, for the purposes of this editorial, we are discussing what we - post-colonial Gabriolans - have till now called ‘Crown Lands.’ These lands are not actually owned by the Crown. They are only controlled by the Crown.

Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. has this to say on their blog, under the headline, “Why you should avoid using “Crown Lands” in First Nation consultation.” (*citation below)

“....under the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the King of England declared that all unceded, unsold land would be reserved to them. The Proclamation stated that land could not be purchased from the First Nations without first being negotiated in public through the Crown. Its principles are alive and well in Canada, and are the basis of modern day treaty negotiations and Aboriginal rights and title cases.

“British Columbia is unique in Canada in that most of the province (an area that’s about 95 per cent of the land base, or nearly 900,000 square kilometres) is unceded, non-surrendered First Nation territories.”

What this means, is the so-called “Federal and Provincial Crown Lands” on Gabriola are, in fact, unceded territory. No one Nation has ever signed them over to the Crown. Thus, those lands don’t actually belong to all Canadians.

They belong to the people who were here well before anyone colonized Gabriola Island. Instead of calling them crown lands, we should be calling them unceded territory.

And this does not just apply to the Unceded Territory between Degnen, Tait, and Petersen. This also applies to the former Kensington Lands between Joyce Lockwood Community Park and the Elder Cedar Nature Reserve.

We should not just be talking about prohibiting mountain biking on these lands.

We should also be talking about prohibiting any trail use. Any foraging. Any livestock grazing. Any cutting of trees for firewood, or at Christmas.

Even if people have been walking, hiking, biking, foraging, grazing cattle, chopping trees, and generally doing whatever they wanted in these lands since colonization happened, we know better now.

Any permission of use of these lands should be going through the Snuneymuxw First Nation.

Even while treaty negotiations are still ongoing. 

Some day, a treaty will be signed. Control of the lands will be turned back over from the Crown to a First Nation. At which time we will have neighbours to whom we will have to explain what we’ve done to these lands which were not ours in the first place.

If we are serious as a community, about our role in Reconciliation, these unceded lands should be treated as if owned by someone other than us. Federal and Provincial Aboriginal Title Land is not public land and should not have public access.

Signs at the property boundaries should be set up, clearly stating, “you are now entering unceded Snuneymuxw First Nation territory. If you don’t have express written permission from a local First Nation to enter these lands, do not enter. 

“They are not the property of all Canadians, they belong to the peoples who were here first.”




* www.ictinc.ca/blog/why-you-should-avoid-using-crown-lands-in-first-nation-consultation

Blog: Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples® (www.ictinc.ca/blog)

Author: Robert P Joseph, President of Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. www.ictinc.ca