Atleo tells Nanaimo crowd treaties must be respected
Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said he wants to see "new life" breathed into the Douglas Treaty and all other treaties with First Nations across Canada.
Atleo spoke to more than 100 people who gathered at the Harbourfront Library Tuesday evening to discuss the Douglas Treaty, signed in 1884 between the colonial government and the Snuneymuxw First Nation.
The event was in preparation for the "Fulfilling Treaty Promises and Living in Treaty Relationships" conference, hosted by the Snuneymuxw First Nation and Vancouver Island University, that will be held at the university in May.
The event also saw speeches from Snuneymuxw Chief Doug White, local MLAs and VIU president Ralph Nilson.
The gathering was held at the same time that the Snuneymuxw are preparing to take the City of Nanaimo and the Harmac pulp mill to court over treaty rights.
The band fears the city and the mill are ready to sign a watersharing agreement using the ample water resources of the Nanaimo River without the consent or involvement of the band. "These agreements and treaties are as valid today as they were when they were entered into," Atleo said to the packed audience.
"These are the basis on which all the early relationships between First Nations and the new settlers were decided. Some believe these treaties are relics that can just be pushed aside but all of us need to embrace them as part of our shared history. I think it's time we breathed new life into them to ensure a positive future for us all."
Atleo, a member of the Ahousaht First Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island, said there has been a disconnect in recent decades between Canadian First Nations and governments that has resulted in such tragedies as residential schools. But he said he is heartened by the growing awareness among governments, and among regular people, that there is a need to return to the treaty relationships that were established many years ago.
"Healing depends on having healthy relationships with each other and we need to come back together again," Atleo said.
"We need to recognize each other as human beings once again."
White said Governor James Douglas understood that the first priority that must be dealt with before settlement could take hold in Nanaimo and Vancouver Island was that an understanding must be made between the settlers and the indigenous people.
"Douglas was clear when the treaty was written that the way of life of the indigenous people was not to be interfered with, and he recognized the need for aboriginal title," White said.
"The signing of the treaty in 1884 was the last time the tradition of respect for local First Nations was really recognized. I'm astonished that federal and provincial officials still come into my office under the belief that there are no standing treaty relationships with us."
White said it's time for both sides to address the issues and build a future together.