Province-wide Native political organization and the McKenna-McBride Commission
Previous articles described the federal development of the Indian administration system during the 1880s-1930s. Because the Indian Act system of governing Aboriginal Peoples in Canada has been around for so long, there is an assumption that the existence and exercise of the Indian Act system is the most natural thing for Native peoples.
However, the extension of the Indian Act into BC continues to be a significant source of contention. This is mainly because pre-existing Aboriginal title has never been dealt with either by the Canadian governments or the Imperial representatives.
While the federal government was developing the Indian Act, the Native people of BC continued with their efforts toward the recognition of Aboriginal title, negotiation of treaties and self-government.
It was during the early 1900s that the Nisga'a Land Committee was formed. By 1909, the political organizations known as the Interior Tribes of BC and the coastal Indian Rights Association were formed. In 1916, these three political organizations joined together to form the province-wide inter-tribal political organization known as the Allied Tribes of British Columbia.
The political organizations petitioned the federal and provincial governments to deal with the outstanding issues of title, treaties and self-government. The provincial and federal governments were at odds with each other regarding the land title issue that remained outstanding in BC. As a result, little was accomplished when the tribal nations petitioned the government officials.
The tribal nations learned of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England, the highest Imperial court. The Allied Tribes of BC wrote to Prime Minister Borden stating that since the matter could not be settled in Canada, they were determined to bring the title case before the Privy Council for settlement. This approach was based upon the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the historic relationship between the Imperial Crown and indigenous peoples in Canada.
Both the federal and provincial governments wanted to keep the issue of Aboriginal title out of the court. The governments responded by developing the joint McKenna-McBride Commission in 1912. The McKenna-McBride Commission was established to investigate and report on Indian reserve lands, to create adjustments and confirm existing reserves without making reference to Aboriginal title.
This Commission is better known as the "Reserve Commission". Sent forth with instruction to deal only with reserve land concerns, they travelled throughout the province visiting Native communities. However, at every turn, the reserve commissioners repeatedly heard demands for treaties.
At the end of their mandate, the commissioners added 136 square miles of inferior lands to BC reserves while 74 square miles of prime land with water and development potential were cut off of the reserves. This was made official through the Indian Act without the legally required consent of the Native peoples.
The Native people rejected this attempt at the settlement of the land question. It was at this point that the amendment was made to the Indian Act in 1927 outlawing the legal pursuit of the title issue.
Cathy Narcisse First Published in Bridge River Lillooet News Jan 2004
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