In our language there are no words for ‘environment’ because we have always been taught that this is part of our everyday living. Our everyday teachings from our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents show us how to look after the foods that we depend on and that are part of the environment, and that’s also part of spirituality.
Ruby Dunstan, Nlaka’pamux Elder
Introduction and the First Nations
BC has become culturally diverse, each culture bringing it’s own perspective. In order to understand the present, it necessary to look into the past and acknowledge it, in order to overcome it and build a better future. The goal of this report was to illustrate and inform of the First Nations history and the relations through time with European settlers. It is there to respect the First Nations heritage, to their culture and land, that they have protected and respected for time immemorial. The main focus is to create partnership and friendship between them even though there past indicates otherwise, learning from it to create a better opportunity and future for the generations to come.
In this time of climate change challenge, where landscape, weather and other environmental entities are being influenced by an irreversible change, it is time to act to protect the BC territory. Bridge Between Nations states how important it is for nations to collaborate and share each other’s knowledge in order to help the environment. Moreover, First Nations still depend on hunting, fishing, gathering and they are much more affected than the general population in BC, it necessary to do something about this.
The report starts with a brief history of BC territory, the different Nations that live there and the conflict with European settlers. The First Nations have been part of the land for centuries, they transmit their cultural knowledge from one generation to another through stories and myth. Their traditional knowledge of the land has kept them alive for generations. Still nowadays the Fraser River is home to many wildlife and human populations and so it is mandatory to keep the Fraser River clean, protected and conserved for the present and future generations. The First Nations living in the Fraser River Valley are the Coast Salish people, Nlaka’pamux, Tsilhqot’in, Secwepemc, Okanagan, St’át’imc, Wet’Suwet’en, Dakel and Sekani. The Stó:lō teaching of the land,Coast Salish community, recall why it is beneficial for everyone to respect nature: the three sons and daughters of Redheaded Woodpecker and Black Bear came into the world to make it right. They travelled through Stó:lō territory transforming people into resources, including salmon, sturgeon,beaver, tones, mountains and trees. Because the resources were once people, they are to be respected, believing the original person’s life force still lives inside each animal and natural feature. This perspective of nature is a meaningful reminder that everything is connected and that once one part of the chain is broken the whole system can fail.
The Nlaka’pamux’s territory is the Stein Valley Heritage Park, an area that since 1999 has been considered ecologically sensitive area and protected indefinitely against logging.
In 1911, a St’at’mic Chiefs council signed a declaration stating sovereignty over St’at’mic territory.
Language is a critical tool in communication and sharing cultural heritage but in case of the First Nations their language is being forgotten due to colonialism and culture assimilation, therefore, their culture and knowledge that withstood over time keeping each community alive during dry and wet seasons are beginning to fade. This is why for over 40 years the government with the help of educational institutions has tried to revive the different languages through awareness campaigns, school programs, cultural camps and classes and online resources. This project is giving high priority, likely, without the First Nations language and the transmission of tradition and knowledge it would be difficult to find a way to protect accordingly the land. The respect towards the land and all it’s living things is a lesson that all cultures should assimilate or take into perspective in order to preserve land, rivers, mountains, valleys, wildlife…
By recognising the value of the intimate understanding of the First Nations traditional and ecological knowledge it would be easier to integrate into stewardships plans, working together, hand in hand and unite against climate change and the destruction of the territory.
History between nations
The first encounter between nations was when the Spanish navigator Juan Perez docked on Langara Island in the Haida territory in 1774. And four years later, James Cook arrived in Nootka Sound. One of the major events in the history of the First Nations was the fur trade period, the first part of it was in 1774, the maritime fur trade and then the land-base one that started in 1793. The First Nations got to play a major role in the fur trade process, they actually had a large degree of control over the fur trade market. Many goods were traded during that time such as iron, copper, chisels, knives, pots muskets and ammunitions. The fur market impacted on the First Nations, increase in trapping and hunting started as well as the challenges of wealth and power struggles. Settlements started to be moved and abandoned to get nearer trading post areas. Additionally, the more settlers were coming, the more diseases they were spreading through the country, diseases such as smallpox, measles, influenza and scarlet fever; those diseases were of devastating impact for the First Nation’s populations, that lost a lot. Moreover, conflicts between settlers and first nations were influencing the amount of loss in people on both sides, such as the Chilcotin War of 1864. Apologies were made by the government in 1999, where representatives of the Tsilhqot’in and provincial government met at the place of the unmarked grave of executed Tsilhqot’in community.
The gold rush was another influential impact on the territory bringing river pollution and loss of salmon resources for both populations.
In 1863, a royal proclamation was established, stating the right and titles of the First Nations to their territories. Many other treaties and proclamations were made over the ongoing years, and are still happening nowadays for example in 2006 the BC government proclaimed the New Relationship Trust Act, starting a new relationship between government and First Nations.
Building Bridges for our mutual environmental challenges
Our vision is a Fraser River Basin where social well-being is supported by a vibrant economy and sustained by a healthy environment
Recognising the past and the mistakes made and accepting them with a lesson learned in mind, is important to build a new and prospective present and future. Respectful relationships have to be established between nations, understanding in each other’s culture and accepting the different and various perspectives of the world. It is only with those differences and multiple perspectives that a solution can be found to conserve and protect the environment, it takes more than one perspective for that. And by combining modern science and traditional ecological knowledge of the First Nations, an effective solution can be found.
For this reason the Fraser Basin Council (FBC) was created in 1997, as a non-profit organisation that promotes research for sustainability in the Fraser Basin and BC.
The important part is sticking together. There are really, really good reasons to do that.
The Late Chief Roy Mussell
To conclude, there have been many conflicts between the government/ settlers and the First Nations for many years in the past, but peace and good communication has prevailed and is now on it’s way for a collaboration between the two nations, as they are fighting for something much greater: the protection of the land and its population. Both knowledges will fill the gaps of the other and bring different insights into the table when it comes to discussing solutions against climate change and for the conservation of the environment and it’s wildlife.
Even though we represent many different First Nation cultures and traditions, we all agree on one basic teaching: We were put here by the Creator to care for this land we call Mother Earth. This means we have a responsibility to maintain good relations with all of her creation.
Assembly of First Nations , 1993
More about First Nations in:
- Evergreen Stewardship Plan for Lillooet Sub Region
- Evergreen Stewardship Plan for South Chilcotin Sub Region
- Source Bridge between nations : A History of First Nations in the Fraser River Basin. 2013. Produced by The Fraser Basin Council. Available at : https://www.fraserbasin.bc.ca/_Library/Ab_NonAb_Relations/bridge_between_nations.pdf [Accessed 03/2021].