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
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
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
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
Cathy Narcisse First Published in Bridge River Lillooet News Feb 2004
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