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Tsilhqot'in file huge land claim

Author: 
Debora Lockyer, Windspeaker Staff Writer, Williams Lake BC
Volume: 
12
Issue: 
5
Year: 
1994

Page R1

It was a land set aside for the use and enjoyment of the Tsilhqot'in - 250 miles by 300 miles of land in the valley of the Chilcotin River - back when the Canadian Pacific Railway first came to B.C. back when there was trust in the federal government.

Today it is the site of logging, ranching, fishing resorts and private residences, and the area over which the chiefs of the Tsilhqot'in intend to lay claim.

The land claim, perhaps the largest specific claim the country has ever seen, was filed June 2 with the Office of Native Claims, said Tsilhqot'in Tribal council spokesman Ray Hance. It sets out the area in the Chilcotin Valley as part of the Tsilhqot'in Nation.

The 1872 peace agreement, set out between the Chiefs of Tsilhqot'in and provincial magistrate Peter O'Reilly, accepted without objection by the federal government, saw the Tsilhqot'in ensure the safety of a survey crew for the CPR, and allow respectful settlers into the area in return for protection from settlement in their territory.

The land was reserved for the Tsilhqot'in people as hunting and fishing grounds. The land claim is based on the European's own historical account of the development of B.C. in the late 1800's, Hance said. The council searched as far away as England for evidence to support the claim, and will soon be in receipt of an old map which sets out the agreed upon boundaries.

The land claim has taken three or four years to put together and is endorsed by the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.

"Among our Peoples, oral promises are sacred pacts which must be honored," reads a statement from the union.

But with all the development that has occurred in the area over more than 100 years, it's bound to be a difficult claim to settle. Hance said the council isn't interested in chasing anyone out of the area, but with 60 to 90 per cent Aboriginal unemployment there are ways Natives can be compensated.

There are five mills in the disputed area, and each day 150 loaded logging trucks roll by the unemployed people living on the reserves, said Hance. Third party interests are reaping the benefits of the land that was promised the Tsilhqot'in and the people are due some form of compensation, he said.

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