Unceded, British Columbia
By Kim Petersen of The Dominion
With files from Dawn Paley. Kim Peterson is the Original Peoples editor for The Dominion.
TRADITIONAL TERRITORY OF SNUNEYMUXW FIRST NATION (NANAIMO, BC)—On 2 July, 2003, a gathering of the International Olympic Committee in Prague awarded the 2010 Winter Olympics to Vancouver-Whistler. The Canadian entry beat out competing bids from Salzburg, Austria and Pyeongchang, South Korea. The IOC decision has provided a venue for international attention on sovereignty in “British Columbia.”
Vancouver is situated in the traditional territories of Coast Salish First Nations, specifically the Skwxwú7mesh, Xwméthkwyiem and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. This land has never been surrendered. According to the Royal Proclamation of 1763, it is the “hunting grounds” “reserved” for the “Indians” where they “should not be molested or disturbed.”
The same unceded status holds for Whistler. “Because we have no treaty with Canada, the imposition and encroachment of Whistler—their hydro lines, their highways, their railroad, in fact all infrastructure development for the 2010 Games—in our territory is illegal,” said James Louie of the Interior Salish St’at’imc Nation, in a press package put out by the Olympics Resistance Network.
Out of these contradictions, a slogan arose: “No Olympics on stolen native land!”
The Olympic Games is “an energy grab, it’s a land grab, and it disrespects inherent Aboriginal rights and title to the land and water,” Mel Bazil of the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan nations told The Dominion.
Vancouver is named after the British seafarer Captain George Vancouver whose cartography, according to University of St. Andrews professor Dan Clayton, helped lay the foundation for the settlement and colonization of BC. “Colonization is as much an ongoing, arbitrary and vacuously conceived process of inscription as it is a process of physical occupation, resettlement, and domination,” wrote Clayton in his book Islands of Truth: The Imperial Fashioning of Vancouver Island.
Contact disrupted Indigenous lifeways and trade with Europeans became dominant. “Native-Western interaction was circumscribed by the capitalist logic of creative destruction,” wrote Clayton.
Later, securing land for the outnumbered colonialists was prioritized by Vancouver Island Governor James Douglas. In the early 1850s, he entered into 14 treaties with First Nations, where land was sold to “the white people for ever” for cash, blankets and clothing.
Subsequent to the Douglas Treaties, Treaty 8 in northeastern BC, the Nisga’a treaty, and Tsawwassen First Nation treaty have been concluded. Officially, 60 First Nations are said to be negotiating land claims in the BC Treaty Process.
Traditionally, Coast Salish peoples inhabited an area extending from the N’ch-ĩwana (Columbia River) in Oregon to Bute Inlet in BC that includes the important waterways of the Salish Sea (Juan de Fuca Strait, Georgia Strait, and Puget Sound). Whistler is in the Coast Mountains range, 125 km north of Vancouver — the traditional territory of the Lil’wat Nation (an Interior Salish people).
The Skwxwú7mesh, Xwméthkwyiem and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, along with the Lil’wat Nation, comprise the Four Host First Nations for the 2010 Olympics. This casts the appearance of a First Nations welcome for the 2010 Olympics.
Indigenous rights activist, Elder Harriet Nahanee of the Pacheenaht Nation on southeast Vancouver Island, fought that appearance. In February, 2007, Nahanee, aged 71, died one week after she was released from prison for protesting the destruction of Eagleridge Bluffs, an area considered unique in biodiversity. The bluffs were being clear cut for the Olympics related expansion of the Sea-to-Sky highway, which connects Vancouver to Whistler.
“The Four Host Nations is a corporate body made up primarily of government-funded Indian Act band council chiefs, not hereditary chieftainships,” stated Lil’wat Elder, Seislom, in a press package provided by the Olympics Resistance Network.
“An overwhelming number of Indigenous people in these territories and in the interior are opposed to the Olympics because of the long-term impact including destruction of the land, commodification of Native art and culture, and the creation of long-term poverty once the few token jobs are gone,” he continued.
“We’re raising the issue of colonialism and lack of legal jurisdiction by the government in addition to the issue of land and exploitation of Indigenous culture,” Gord Hill of the Kwakwakwak’w nation told The Dominion.
Hill pointed to 2010 Olympics sponsor Hudson’s Bay Company’s recent decision to refuse a bid from the Quw’utsun’ First Nation, a Coast Salish people on lower Vancouver Island, who founded and made the famous Cowichan sweaters for over a century. Instead the Olympic sweater will be made in China.
The Quw’utsun’ are upset over the loss of jobs and an allegedly mock sweater. Quw’utsun’ Chief Lydia Hwitsum said the Cowichan sweater is a registered trademark. HBC in a press release claims its sweater design is an original.
“It is the reality of strong opposition to the Olympic Games by Native peoples that has forced VANOC to desperately try and create the perception of Native support for the Olympics by throwing a lot of money to a few select people,” according to No 2010 Resistance.