TNG land claims case may hamper future Shuswap government agreements

Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw (“NStQ”) Leadership Council for party status in the TNG's court action known as “Charleyboy v. the Queen."

The Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw (“NStQ”) Leadership Council has filed for party status in the Tsilhqot’in National Government’s court action  “Charleyboy v. the Queen,” also known as the “Charleyboy writ.”

Filed in 2003, the TNG aboriginal title claim covers a tract of land the NStQ say overlaps more than 75 per cent of NStQ established traditional territory.

“The Charleyboy writ goes from the west side of the Fraser River all the way down past Clinton, toward and past Clearwater, takes in all of the Dog Creek, Canoe Creek area, Soda Creek, the Williams Lake Indian Band, Canim Lake Band, all of Cache Creek, Bonaparte and all the Secwepemc communities all the way down,” Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Anne Louie told the Tribune. “It goes almost to the Kootenays. It’s a ridiculous claim.”

Louie said the NStQ territorial claim is based on detailed historical analysis of the territory actually used, occupied, and controlled by the Northern Secwepemc from time immemorial up to and including the first contact with Alexander Mackenzie in 1793 and the assertion of British sovereignty in 1846.

Legal action has been pursued regretfully, Louie said, but insisted it’s the only way to get things moving along.

“We have had several meetings with our chiefs and chiefs from the TNG. At one meeting in early 2012, the TNG chiefs asked if they could take the information back to their people.”

At a subsequent meeting, the TNG chiefs said they had to obtain a mandate from their people.

“We questioned that because as elected chiefs we are given the mandate to work on behalf of our communities,” Louie said. “So we granted them two more months. They responded after two months with a letter stating they were not given the mandate to withdraw or negotiate their boundaries.”

Chief Joe Alphonse participated in the meetings in his capacity as chair of the TNG and chief of Tl’etinqox’tin (Anaham).

He told the Tribune the TNG chiefs do have to obtain a mandate from the members of their communities to make decisions.

“We want to have a ceremony in our communities because when you’re dealing with overlap issues you’re dealing with a lot of issues around healing,” Alphonse said.

First Nations people often talk about healing from residential school issues, but historically there were tribal warfares that happened between nations.

“Obviously there’s been no healing because there’s not trust between the nations. We have to start to resolve those issues in an acceptable way,” Alphonse said, adding the TNG tried to accommodate NStQ.

Nations also have different approaches, he suggested.

“We as Tsilhqot’in look at the boundaries in a different way than NStQ,” he said. “I think there was a lack of willingness from them to move their boundary line.”

He argued the TNG made “substantial” movement of the TNG boundary, moving it back.

“Our boundary on the map covers an extensive area, but we as Tsilqot’in look at it in a different way. There are many different types of overlaps you can have.”

Hunting, fishing, areas for ceremony, and economic are all areas that can overlap, he said.

“I think they look at one boundary to cover all things and we don’t.”

Chief Anne Louie argued the Charleyboy writ is “a huge thing” because the NStQ are in treaty negotiations and the TNG are not.

“The TNG signed a strategic engagement with the provincial government and they benefit from all resources under that agreement.”

Litigation is not the preferred way to resolve things, especially with a neighbouring First Nation group, Louie suggested, but insisted the NStQ  have tried, patiently and persistently, to find a solution to the matter through discussion and negotiation and those efforts have been rebuffed.

“As a result of the Charleyboy action NStQ’s interests have been, and continue to be, compromised. We must now proceed aggressively to seek a resolution in the court. The TNG is doing itself no favour by maintaining a position that has absolutely no basis in fact or law.

“In 2003 when treaty negotiations started, everyone involved or not involved filed a protective writ so that if anything ever happened they could go back to court.”

Everyone had maps they claimed their territory on, and then chief Chief Ervin Charleyboy submitted the TNG’s.

Louie said the two groups have almost identical strengths of claims.

“Ours go to the Farwell Canyon area; so do theirs,” she said. “Our people have always gone out and fished in that area. At the confluence where the Fraser and Chilcotin Rivers meet that was actual Shuswap bands on the west side of the river.”

When the TNG attended a delegation at city hall in December they phoned Louie, asking her to attend the meeting to give the official welcome, a signal they recognize that it’s traditional NStQ territory, Louie said.

Alphonse said the TNG are not actively involved with the Charleyboy case right now and described it as somewhat “irrelevant.”

“We’ve put a lot of effort into resolving this issue and it’s unfortunate NStQ has taken this step, but unit we actually see the legal document, we can’t really comment further,” he said, adding the NStQ leadership has to do what it feels is necessary.

“We don’t criticize them for that, but don’t criticize us for trying to protect our interests as well.”

Alphonse said it’s more than a line on a map.

“Let’s look at the healing, it’s long overdue. Other First Nations people are not the enemy as far as we’re concerned, but the encroachments on our land by provincial and federal governments that we should be most concerned about.”

The NStQ want the issue resolved and the next step, if the party status is granted, will be to move the litigation along.