In our historical overview of the 1950s, it is clear that a great deal of activity began to take place during this time in relation to provincial conduct on the land as well as in relation to aboriginal issues in Canada.
From 1959 to 1961, the new Conservative federal government of John Diefenbaker commissioned yet another joint parliamentary committee to consider Indian policy. On the larger front, two other wars, the Korean War and the Viet Nam War occurred during the 50s. Here again, Native volunteers stepped forward on behalf of Canada.
In 1953, likely in response to post World War II social awareness, the prohibition against Native people pre-empting land was repealed from provincial legislation. In addition, 1955 saw the publication of the Hawthorne study that provided a disparaging overview of the social and economic conditions of Native people in British Columbia.
The 1950s brought in an era that has been referred to as the “resource boom”. Having not been extinguished through treaties with the nation-state, over half of Canada remained as Aboriginal title lands. Likewise, the vast majority of land in BC remained as Aboriginal title lands. Entrepreneurs and governments wanted to access the valuable resources, and as a result, the areas of resource “development” emerged as a major point of confrontation. In BC, much of this “development” occurred without consideration of Aboriginal interests or rights and often meant the disruption and destruction of the indigenous traditional economy and way of life.
It was during the 1950s that indigenous peoples in BC saw many major utility and infrastructure projects implemented in their territories throughout the province. For example, the Hope-Princeton highway was opened, the Peace River oil and gas boom began, Kemano1 was completed including the flooding of Cheslatta territory at Kenny dam, the PGE railway was extended to Prince George and then onto Dawson Creek, the dam at Campbell River was completed and by 1960, the Bridge River here in St’át’imc territory was flooded to create Carpenter Lake reservoir.
Once the prohibition against pursuing the land issue was lifted through the 1951 Indian Act amendments, the Native peoples again organized and followed up on the outstanding land issue. Amongst the coastal peoples, Frank Calder worked to form the Nisga’a tribal council and the Nuu’chah’nulth tribal council was also formed.
The formation of these two tribal councils marked a departure from the Indian Act and from the Department of Indian Affairs administration system. The tribal councils returned to a form of organization based upon tribal groupings. This had been the original foundation of indigenous political organizations.
In the interior of the province, George Manuel became involved in politics and gained prominence as an important indigenous leader. He organized a large political convention in Kamloops during 1959 that was attended by 130 Chiefs from throughout the province.
This convention presented the first opportunity since 1927 to resume discussions and pursuit of the outstanding land issue and it quickly became clear that this remained as the most significant topic.