November 2002

As we continue our exploration of the history affecting our situation here in BC and in the Lillooet region, it is clear that the new Commissioner of Lands and Works, Joseph Trutch, brought forth a legacy that was decidedly controversial and which has had a lasting impact. To support his stance of outright denial of aboriginal title, he quickly reversed the reserve land allotment policies of Governor James Douglas. The reserves that had been previously laid out, known now as Douglas reserves, were severely cut back based upon the argument that the vast majority of reserve lands were lying in waste.  By 1866, colonial legislation was passed which barred indigenous people from pre-empting land.  At the same time, non-native settlement was being promoted by allowing settlers to pre-empt up to 480 acres of land per family if they cleared and farmed the land within a specific period of time. Under Joseph Trutch, setting out reserve lands in BC became based upon a formula of 10 acres per family.  At this point, the issue of treaty making was shelved and conveniently forgotten about by the colonial government officials and settler populations.  Being well aware of the situation of treaties and settlements in the United States and across Canada, BC Natives viewed these moves as being extremely unjust.  As early as 1867, the first of many petitions was forwarded to England protesting the illegal take over of indigenous lands.  The petition was sent forth on behalf of seventy BC indigenous Chiefs.

During this time in history, the colonial officials were given orders to tread softly and to work toward maintaining the peace with indigenous peoples until the government was able to establish and firm up British rule in the colony.  In order to propagate and enforce the new order of understanding about the Indian land question and the establishment of colonial rule on the mainland, Judge Matthew Baille Begbie was brought in from England complete with powers to make new laws.  Judge Begbie had a notorious reputation for the actions he took in establishing British law.  He was known as the hanging judge because he sentenced several Natives and Chinese to hang.  Apparently, word has it that he hung one white man in order to prove the point that he wasnt racist.  During this same time period at the national level, the British North America Act of 1867 granted the dominion government a measure of independence from Britain. Canada was formed into a country through the amalgamation of the existing eastern provinces and recognized through the BNA. Under section 91(24) of this Canadian Constitution, the federal government and parliament became responsible for Indians and lands reserved for Indians.  At this time, the dominion government had a great interest in actually establishing a national presence at the 49th parallel because the United States was quickly pressing northward.  All of these combined factors shaped the political climate during the time that British Columbia was formed into a province and joined Canada in 1871.

Cathy Narcisse First Published in Bridge River Lillooet News Nov 2002 USLCES LogoUSLCES Home page.