A group of runners make their way along a trail inside the Royal Roads property during the Terry Fox Run last fall.

A group of runners make their way along a trail inside the Royal Roads property during the Terry Fox Run last fall.

Douglas Treaties don’t mean much for RRU property

The 1850s agreements signed with aboriginal groups are problematic.

  • Jan. 28, 2017 5:00 p.m.

When the province was settled by the British during the 19th century, there were very few treaties established with the indigenous people already occupying the land.

On Vancouver Island, however, James Douglas established a series of treaties with local indigenous groups in the 1850s – offering cash, blankets and clothing – including the Teechamitsa treaty that turned over land between Esquimalt and Point Albert to “the white people for ever.”

On the surface this agreement, and others like it, might appear to put a dent in any First Nations groups hoping to make land claims within Greater Victoria, such as on the property of Royal Roads University. But the Douglas Treaties are highly problematic for several reasons, according to University of Victoria professor Brian Thom.

“Those people who put their (signatures) underneath the list of names of the head men who were attending the treaty session, didn’t likely understand the treaty that they were getting into in the same terms that Douglas had written in black and white on the page,” said Thom, whose research focuses on aboriginal rights and modern-day treaty negotiations.

In fact, historic evidence suggests that treaties were agreed upon orally and that it wasn’t until later that the arrangement was actually written down.

“At law, it’s the oral agreement that is the actual binding treaty, so we have to turn to First Nations oral history to know what their view of the oral arrangement is. You can imagine, after (over) 150 years … that’s a very challenging thing to do in the court of law,” Thom said.

Further, Douglas broke promises outlined in the written version of the treaty that make the legality of the documents questionable.

The Teechamitsa treaty states the aboriginal population can expect to keep their village sites and enclosed fields and that hunting and fishing practices may continue on unoccupied lands.

“We may think that things were settled on the south tip of Vancouver Island back in 1850, but Douglas never kept up his end of the bargain, nor any of the subsequent Crowns, so there’s this long, outstanding, unfulfilled promise that needs to be reconciled today. And of course it’s more expensive to do that now than it was back in the day,” Thom noted.

joel.tansey@goldstreamgazette.com

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