This month Id like to discuss 3
aspects of history concerning the Native land issue:
1) the land registry system in BC,
2) the struggle between Canada and BC about treaties and reserve lands, and
3) the introduction of the BC Land Act of 1874 to Canada.
As a student of Native Studies, it was not difficult to arrive at the understanding that lands had been illegally taken from indigenous peoples in British Columbia. What was not so clear was how this process had been carried out.
The way that land is normally documented and transferred in non-Native societies is through land title deeds. A deed is an official written signed and sealed document that is used to legally transfer ownership of property.
Without having gained legal access to the land through treaties with the indigenous peoples of BC, the government did not have documentation showing how they obtained ownership of the lands that they were assigning to the settler populations.
Judge Begbie was given the duty of setting up a land registry system that could be used. He adopted the Torrens land title system which was invented in Australia. It allowed settlers to buy land in BC without having to fully trace ownership to its source.
This was the system the government used to register lands under its jurisdiction and, thus, presumed ownership over indigenous lands. However, without benefit of treaties, the provincial government continues to be unable to produce a good root of title to the lands that they have assigned from the time of their settlement phase.
As discussed earlier, when BC joined Confederation, Canada had mistakenly presumed that treaties had been carried out in a manner similar to those in eastern Canada. These were extensive treaties that acknowledged indigenous title with the reserves starting at160 acres per family and the major treaties in the Prairies had reserves of 640 acres per family.
The Canadian government was quite dismayed to learn that no such treaties had occurred in BC. In fact, under Trutch, reserves were set at 10 acres per family making the size of reserves in BC miniscule in comparison.
During the 1870s, Coast and Interior Salish chiefs, including the Sttimc, held large assemblies protesting the small reserves and the lack of treaties. This point in history marks the birth of demands for recognition of original tribal land ownership and for treaties that transferred title and guaranteed adequate reserve lands. Indian land claims were to become and remain a distinct element in BC politics.
The provincial government sent the Land Act of 1874 to Canada for approval, but the document showed little interest in settling the Aboriginal land question. As a result, the federal Minister of Justice felt it was his duty to call attention to the legal position of the lands in BC and disallowed the Act. As part of his reasoning, he noted there had never been a cession of Indian title in BC and he quoted sections of the 1763 Royal Proclamation.