Open Letter from Skwelkwek’welt Protection Center

Posted by admin on Aug 27th, 2004

OPEN LETTER August 27, 2004

The Right Honourable Paul Martin, Prime Minister
Government of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister, 80 Wellington Street
House of Commons Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Fax: (613) 941-6900

The Honourable Gordon Campbell, Premier
Government of British Columbia, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada V8W 9E1
Fax: (250) 387-0087


Dear Prime Minister and Premier:


I am writing on behalf of the Skwelkwek’welt Protection Center. The Skwelkwek’welt Protection Center is a Secwepemc body committed to protect our lands and culture that is being destroyed by Sun Peaks Resort and the expansion of Sun Peaks Resort.

It is clear that despite the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized Aboriginal Title, and that the Canadian Constitution of 1982 protects Aboriginal Title as an Aboriginal Right yet your political decision has been to extinguish our Aboriginal Title.

It is clear in our mind that the recent endorsement by Canada and British Columbia of the $285 million dollar expansion of Sun Peaks is a deliberate and clear effort of Canada and British Columbia to extinguish our Aboriginal Title.

Extinguishment is an extremely violent term. It is based upon snuffing out our right in the land. It is based upon snuffing out our culture. Extinguishment is a clear violation of our human right to exist as peoples.

We feel that the Sun Peaks and the expansion of Sun Peaks are in direct contradiction to Canada’s signing the Convention of Biological Diversityin terms of not complying with Article 8(j). Elder Irene Billy of the Skwelkwek’welt Protection Center fought very hard to see that Canada greed to “prior informed consent” at the Convention of the Parties 6 in The ague. Canada did under pressure agree with this provision yet Canada does not apply this principle to the expansion of Sun Peaks. This is wrong. Canada must live up to these voluntary international obligations or withdraw from the Convention on Biological Diversity in shame.

We feel that this provision draws a link between our culture and the preservation of the ecological biodiversity of Skwelkwek’welt. We feel that in practical terms the protecting and preserving the biological diversity of our territory includes recognition of our Aboriginal Title. We have thousands of years of values and knowledge or our lands. Our multifaceted traditional use activities monitor in real terms if business activities have a destructive impact on our land. This is the reason we have struggled to protect our Aboriginal Rights in the Canadian Constitution and why we have fought to have them recognized in the Canadian legal system.

According to the Canadian Constitution Act 1982, Canada is responsible for negotiating with the Secwepemc Nation, on a nation-to-nation basis. Aboriginal Title is a collective proprietary interest in our Secwepemc territory. Aboriginal Title is the collective responsibility of all traditional land users and occupiers. Aboriginal Title is our link to our lands. It is the basis of our culture, our language and our way life.

Decisions regarding Aboriginal Title will not be confined to your federal and provincial government extinguishment policies or to the endless negotiation processes empowered by your financial loans and contribution agreements. Those negotiations have only been a benefit to those negotiators who get a pay check from those funds for the last 10 years.

Your extinguishment policies must stop because they violate of our human right to exist as peoples. It must be replaced by a po;icy that recognizes Aboriginal Title is a fundamental part of our culture as indigenous peoples. Indeed, your policies must become consistent with the direction given by the Supreme Court of Canada and seek mutually acceptable reconciliation agreements of our respective rights and interests in our Aboriginal Title Secwepemc Territories.

Up to now the federal government has been hiding its head in the sand on this issue. The provincial government has been acting arrogantly. Both our governments have been acting like business-as-usual. Skwelkwek’welt Protection Center has therefore called upon the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the Council of Canadians to help us support us in getting your attention.

This weekend we are having a Convergence and Demonstration at the Sun Peaks Resort. The purpose of this event is to highlight the fact that as Secwepemc land users and occupiers we will be deeply hurt by the ongoing expansion of Sun Peaks and we want this expansion stopped immediately.

I would like to highlight the fact that I was arrested for political demonstrations because of the failure of your existing policies and processes regarding the negative impact on our Aboriginal Title by the existence of Sun Peaks and the Sun Peaks expansion. More than 40 people have been arrested over the last several years, and some are still judicially prohibited from participating in this weekend demonstration.

We have also have maintained a Monitoring Tent at the south west entrance of Sun Peaks Resort but one log house we built was burnt to the ground by an arsonist and a cordwood house was destroyed by the BC government and Sun Peaks Resort employees and monitored by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

We raised these political rights matters with Mr. Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples, Commission for Human Rights. In fact Mr. Stavenhagen did visit our monitoring tent and we had a feast for him, in his honour and we have kept in touch with him.

We do intend to rebuild a permanent facility at Skwelkwek’welt to, amongst other things, monitor the destruction of our land, and make a public notice that all business activities are subject to our Aboriginal Title economic rights and interests in our land. Indeed we feel that a permanent facility at Skwelkwek’welt and the Convergence and Demonstration are a service to potential free market investors because it makes them fully aware of the defective status of any proprietary interest they may purchase and invest in at Sun Peaks.

In fact we do support efforts of our leadership that are in New York City making free market investors aware of the consequences of investing in unsettled Aboriginal Territory. In fact the successful submissions made by the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade (INET) to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the North American Free Trade Agreement NAFTA), on the Canada US softwood lumber dispute give international credibility to our economic interests.

In those submissions INET argued that your governments’ policy not to recognize Aboriginal Title is a cash subsidy to the Canadian forest industry. In our case we feel that we are subsidizing Sun Peaks Resort and its expansion with our culture and way of life as Secwepemc peoples. We cannot afford to continue to subsidize your governments’ wealth with our impoverishment.

Delgamuukw in addition to recognizing Aboriginal Title also makes it very clear that the federal and provincial governments do not have 100 percent or exclusive ownership and jurisdiction over Aboriginal Title lands and resources. The recent Haida decision added a legal duty government and industry to consult and accommodate Aboriginal Title even before it has been proved. This is because the courts are totally dissatisfied with your business-as-usual approach try and extinguish our Aboriginal Title.

They see that negotiations under the present extinguishment policy and process is failing bully us into extinguishment settlements; that the injunctions are not necessarily always conducive in balancing the interests between business and Aboriginal Rights; and that full blown court decision takes 10 to 14 years; and all of these remedies put us at a decided disadvantage when dealing with your governments that are committed to an out dated status quo of marginalizing our economic and cultural rights.

In conclusion the Skwelkwek’welt Protection Center wants the expansion of Sun Peaks stopped. We want a new federal policy that recognizes Aboriginal Title and provides federal and provincial government negotiators eith the legal mandate to consult and accommodate our Aboriginal Title, so we can mutually agree on how many bed units Sun Peaks should have.

Yours sincerely,

Janice Billy
Skwelkwek’welt Protection Center

Mr. Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples, Commission for Human Rights
Maude Barlow, Spokesperson, Council of Canadians
Chief Stewart Phillip, President, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs
National Chief Phil Fontaine, Assembly of First Nations
Arthur Manuel, Spokesperson, Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade

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