Treaty of 1854

Searching for a foundation for their fledgling economy, in the early 1850's the authorities of the Colony of Vancouver Island turned their attention to the coal deposits that existed in Snuneymuxw Territory in the Nanaimo region. The vision of the Colony was to have an economy built on mining.

In order to access the coal, the Colonial authorities knew that under British Common Law, and as a matter of practical reality, they had to conclude a Treaty with the Indigenous owners of the land, which in coal-rich Nanaimo were the Snuneymuxw. The goal of treaty-making was to achieve, through recognition and respect of Snuneymuxw, access to the coal deposits.

James Douglas, who was both Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company on Vancouver Island and Governor of the Colony (from 1851), was the one entrusted with the responsibility of negotiating treaties. In addition to the Treaty with Snuneymuxw in 1854, he had completed eleven in the Fort Victoria area, and two at Fort Rupert.

At the time of the Treaty, the Snuneymuxw people lived throughout what is today the mid-region of Vancouver Island, as well as the Gulf Islands and Fraser River. Village Sites extended across this entire area. Snuneymuxw's economy included, amongst other things, a vibrant shellfish industry, coal-mining, and commercial fisheries including with the Hudson's Bay Company.

The Treaty of 1854 recognizes the Snuneymuxw way of life, and title to Snuneymuxw village sites and enclosed fields. Amongst other things, it also specifically confirmed protection for Snuneymuxw fisheries and hunting. The Treaty was a reconciliation between the Crown and the Snuneymuxw – a key purpose of which was Crown recognition and confirmation for Snuneymuxw to continue the dynamic society, culture, and economy which they had developed over countless generations, on the lands and waters which had always been their foundation.