Snuneymuxw, VIU set to host treaty symposium

Conference expected to attract country's leading experts on First Nations treaties.

Learning more about existing pre-Confederation First Nations treaties and their current legal standing will be the subject of a key symposium hosted by Snuneymuxw First Nation and Vancouver Island University.

Running Thursday and Friday (May 10-11), the Pre-Confederation Treaties of Vancouver Island – Fulfilling Treaty Promises and Living in Treaty Relationships conference is expected to attract more than 200 government, academic, First Nation and public delegates.

Opening the conference is B.C. Lt.-Gov. Steven Point, while panelists and presenters include Louise Mandell, Douglas Lambert, Ardith Walkem and Neil Vallance, among others.

Sub-themes of the conference include: Honouring the Spirit and Intent of the Pre-Confederation Treaties of Vancouver Island; Charting a New Course for Treaty Implementation; Unleashing the Promise of Economic Development; and Pre-Confederation Treaties and Decision Making.

Snuneymuxw Chief Douglas White III has been working diligently since being elected chief in December 2009 to pursue validation of the Snuneymuxw Treaty (also known as the Douglas Treaty), signed on Dec. 23, 1854.

The treaty was supposed to recognize the Snuneymuxw way of life, protect village sites and enclosed fields, and protect traditional methods of fishing and hunting.

While James Douglas, chief factor of Hudson’s Bay Company and representative of the Crown, honoured the agreement, government officials who followed did not.

As a result, White says traditional ways of the Snuneymuxw have been eroded along with their traditional territories, and promises of economic development opportunities have gone unfulfilled.

Douglas negotiated 14 treaties with First Nation leaders on Vancouver Island from 1850-1854.

“It is vitally important that the general public gain a better understanding of these treaties, and their importance and implications today,” said White. “The treaties established the foundation for relationships between First Nations, the Crown, industry, and the general public, and when we gain greater knowledge of that foundation and work to implement it, everyone benefits.”

In February, White went before the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal People  in Ottawa to help examine the federal government’s constitutional and legal responsibilities to Aboriginal peoples.

Before the committee, White expressed frustration that the B.C. Treaty Process, established in 1992, has not lived up to its mandate of committing to produce negotiated agreements between government and First Nations.

Keith Smith, a professor of First Nations Studies at VIU, said symposiums like this help all sides work through the complicated layers of those relationships.

“As an institute of higher learning, we can work with the Snuneymuxw to raise awareness about the treaties and honour the spirit and intent of the agreements that were made in the mid-1800s,” said Smith in a press release. “On the academic side, we hope to encourage research on the treaties.”

For more on the conference, please visit www.vancouverisland