Feb 2004

Denial of Aboriginal title and reserve land expropriations work hand in hand: The main purpose for developing reserve lands under the Indian Act was to provide protection of specific lands for indigenous peoples after aboriginal title had been dealt with through treaty, while opening up the remaining land base for non-native settlement.
A comparison of the reserve system in Canada and United States shows that less than 0.2 percent of Canada's total land mass is reserved for Aboriginal peoples while in the US the proportion set aside for reserve lands is twenty times larger. However, the reserve allocations in BC are minuscule in comparison to the rest of Canada.
In BC, the reserve system had been set out without the consent of the indigenous peoples, without having dealt with Aboriginal title and without the benefit of treaties. Upon further investigation, one would discover that the history of circumstances in BC shows that the Indian Act "reserve" system of protecting lands for indigenous peoples has been less than effective.
While the federal government was busy implementing the Indian Act system into British Columbia, the provincial government was accelerating its use of lands and resources within the province.
Some of the key infrastructure in the Lillooet area such as the hydro and railway development was initiated during this period.
By 1913, the Bridge River Power Company was developing plans for building a dam on the Bridge River and diverting water with a tunnel system through the mountain to Seton Lake. A power plant was built on Seton Lake reserve lands that had been expropriated by the provincial government.
This "development" destroyed important salmon runs and much of the ecosystem of the Bridge River valley that many St'át'imc people relied upon for sustenance. Large reserve cut-offs were carried out at Seton Lake and Cayoose to accommodate the hydro developments without compensation. Further hydro developments were built through the middle of the Cayoose reserve bringing to an end the agricultural livelihood that was being adopted.
The provincial government appears to have designed the infrastructure for hydro development in such a manner that goes through virtually every reserve in St'át'imc territory thereby leaving much of the lands unusable.
The provincial government was also busy granting lands for railway development that would connect settlements with other major urban centres in the country. The Pacific Great Eastern (PGE) railway was another part of the infrastructure development that occurred in the Lillooet area. In addition to granting aboriginal title lands for railway development, the provincial government also expropriated reserve lands from Cayoose, Seton Lake, Fountain, Pavilion and Anderson Lake.
The expropriation of hydro and railway lands through several of the local reserves disrupted community life. Federal law states that reserve land expropriations are supposed to be authorized only after consent was obtained from the Native people affected. This detail of legality was often sidestepped or ignored, and the land expropriations went ahead.
The infrastructure was effective in opening up the Lillooet area for further settlement and economic development.

Cathy Narcisse First Published in Bridge River Lillooet News Feb 2004
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