Oct 2003

Illegal to pursue aboriginal title case: Similar to the BC legislative approach, federal officials often made amendments to laws in order to counter or prevent unanticipated circumstances in relating to aboriginal issues. In 1927, through an amendment to the Indian Act known as section 141, Native people were prohibited from raising money for the aboriginal land title issue. Through this amendment, they were also prohibited access to the courts to argue their position and prohibited from hiring lawyers to represent them in any legal actions about the land issue.

This particular amendment to the Indian Act came about in response to the continuing and increasing activities of BC Native tribal groups related to the aboriginal title land issue. The Native people had unsuccessfully attempted to raise the issue with provincial and federal officials through various petitions, memorials and tribal declarations for several decades. The Allied Indian Tribes, made up of 22 indigenous tribal nations from throughout BC, decided that the aboriginal title case must be brought to the Privy Council court in England.

This approach was based upon England’s historic recognition of aboriginal title as documented through the Royal Proclamation of King George III in October 1763. Furthermore, the imperial government in London was the founding nation of the Canadian dominion government. As a result, the indigenous peoples of this country had a well-established historic and direct relationship with the British Crown.

A special joint committee of Ottawa officials was formed in 1926 to investigate the issue of aboriginal title in order to stop the case from being heard before the Canadian courts, and ultimately, before the Privy Council in London. Shortly after the completion of the federal “investigation”, section 141 of the Indian Act was devised and implemented. The intent of this legislative amendment to the Indian Act was to prevent all aboriginal land title activities and, more importantly, to block the BC aboriginal title land case from getting to the British Privy Council.

This Indian Act amendment basically made it impossible for the aboriginal land title issue to be pursued through legal channels. It became illegal for Native peoples to arrange for the necessary steps to get the title case into court. Similar to the potlatch ban, this effectively drove the aboriginal title political efforts underground.

The combination of the anti-potlatch law and the law against using legal avenues for recognition of aboriginal title served to prevent the discussion of the unresolved land issue in British Columbia and also outlaw any gatherings of Native people generally. The missionaries, Indian Agents and police supervised the situation. This amendment to the Indian Act stayed in effect from 1927 until 1951. Many of the elderly hereditary leaders that had been keeping the aboriginal title issue alive for several decades passed away during this period. Some of the most discriminatory aspects of the Canadian Indian Act were repealed after the conclusion of World War II where racial discrimination was fought against globally.

Cathy Narcisse First Published in Bridge River Lillooet News Oct 2003
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