"A long time ago . . . we had a number of settlements up
and down the valley and on the Salt Water, but the white man took
possession of them, and also the timber. I hear the white man
are making a great deal of money out of the land that formerly
belonged to the Indians. If I were to go to USA, England or any
part of Canada and go on anyone's land like that I would be put
in jail right away, and we should like to know why our lands have
been taken from us in this way. We don't want to lose any more
land than we have already lost."
- Nuxalk Chief Sungwmay (Tom Henry), 1916
"Eventually things will come to a head here and our natural
resources will be limited in time . . . I notice that the wood
and fish, etc., are getting scarce . . . When I was a boy my
father and the old men of the tribe told us to be very careful
with the land and property here, not to give it away or sell it.
We all discussed the matter a great deal among ourselves . . .
The Creator gave us this land and we use this land and eat these
fruits which the Creator provided . . . We want you to know that
the fish is the same as the bank. This is where we derive our
- Nuxalk Kwlhanii (Jim Pollard), 1916
"The sovereignty of the Nuxalk Nation comes from Tatau, the
Creator. It is not granted nor subject to the approval of any
other nation. As the Nuxalk Nation we have the sovereign right
to jurisdictional rule within our own territory. Our lands are a
sacred gift. The land is provided for the continued use, benefit
and enjoyment of our people, the Nuxalkmc, and it is our ultimate
obligation to Tatau, the Creator, to care for and protect it."
- Nuxalk Nation, 1995
In early September 1995, members of the Nuxalk Nation and
their supporters initiated a blockade near Bella Coola, British
Columbia to stop International Forest Products Ltd (Interfor)
from constructing a logging road into their unceded traditional
territory. Interfor proposes to log in the center of Ista, a
sacred site where one of the first Women descended to Earth.
According to the Nuxalk:
"Old Nuxalk village sites, hunting grounds, fishing grounds,
grave sites, and sacred areas have been destroyed and raped by
big logging corporations. Our fish and animals that we need to
feed our people are disappearing. Our food plants, medicinal
plants and trees are being trampled on. We, the Nuxalkmc, can
no longer stand by and watch total devastation of our Nuxalk
traditional way of life. We can no longer stand by and allow
Interfor to destroy the link to our survival as Nuxalkmc."
To stop further encroachment by Interfor into their
territory, the Nuxalk established the blockade at Ista (Fog
Creek) on Nuxalknalus (King Island), a large mainland island 30
miles west of Bella Coola. The Canadian owned corporation began
road building in June and claims to have had no opposition to
their advertised 5 year "development" plan for Nuxalknalus.
According to an activist from Forest Action Network (FAN), a
conservation organization working with the Nuxalk Nation,
Interfor's 5 year plan is to log the whole coast.
Interfor claims to have made all logging arrangements with
the Heiltsuk Nation and expressed surprise at the presence of
the Nuxalk. The Nuxalkmc agree that they share the area with the
Heiltsuk Nation and traditional Heiltsuk people have come to Ista
to support what the Nuxalk are doing there.
Within its first week, Interfor obtained an injunction to
stop the blockade and stated that anyone found at Ista would be
charged with trespassing. Hereditary Nuxalk Chief Qwatsinas (Ed
Moody) responded to this threat, "Interfor's injunction is
invalid. We are not trespassing. This is our land. Interfor are
the trespassers. They are stealing our forests." The Nuxalkmc do
not recognize the jurisdiction of the Canadian court system over
their territory and consider permits granted by the B.C.
government to log in their unceded territory to be illegal.
On the morning of September 9, 15 Interfor workers arrived
at Ista to enforce the injunction. Nuxalkmc and supporters
responded by burning copies of the injunction. As John Braaten,
operations manager for Interfor, tried to read the injunction
aloud, everyone burst into traditional Nuxalkmc song.
The Nuxalk Nation has expressed its understanding of both
Canadian and their laws. "We know through our Hereditary Chief
and Elders who we are as Nuxalkmc, and they tell us OVER AND OVER
that this land was provided for us by Tatau, the Creator, not by
"Our territory is ours, the Nuxalkmc, and we have never
ceded it to the Canadian government. Our nation is not interested
in entering into any treaties (B.C. Treaty Commission),
agreements or any sort of arrangement with the Canadian
government or the British Columbia government concerning our
Nuxalk Nation hereditary rights and title."
By September 12, as the blockade went into its ninth day,
there were over 60 people on site, including Nuxalkmc heriditary
chiefs, elders, band council and community members, and FAN
activists. Also, by then Interfor had requested that the Royal
Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) enforce the Supreme Court
injunction against the blockade. The Nuxalk Nation requested
support and assistance from the people that share Ista territory
with them, the Heiltsuk Nation of Bella Bella. On Friday,
September 15, the Nuxalk hereditary chiefs greeted 4 visitors
from Bella Bella, 70 miles west of Bella Coola. Heiltsuk
Hereditary Chief Reggie Moody, Dean Wilson, and Don and Mitchell
Vickers were received with honor. Nuxalk Head Chief Nuximlayc
(Lawrence Pootlass) danced the welcome honor dance and speeches
"We can only protect this land together," according to
Reggie Moody, Heiltsuk hereditary chief, "We have come in
friendship and partnership, to support the protection of this
place." As the Heiltsuk people left, he danced on the bow of
his boat to say farewell to the Nuxalk song of "Ahiyala."
On Saturday September 23, the RCMP began gathering an
assault force on the mainland coast near Bella Bella. There were
reportedly 41 RCMP personnel, a 20 person helicopter, 3 RCMP
boats, and a Coast Guard ship on standby. The following Tuesday,
the RCMP moved in on the 40 or so elders, hereditary chiefs,
other Nuxalkmc, and FAN activists remaining at the blockade
support camp. Among the 22 people arrested for violating the
injunction were three Nuxalk hereditary chiefs, a Nuxalk elder,
a representative for First Nation Environmental Network, and 5
At the B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, all but 4 of the
arrestees were released after signing an agreement to honor the
injunction protecting Interfor logging operations. Three Nuxalk
hereditary chiefs, Qwatsinas, Nuximlayc, Slicxwliqw (Charlie
Nelson), and Lyle Morriseau, an Ojibway with the First Nations
Environmental Network, refused to sign. They stated that agreeing
to abide by the injunction would be to acknowledge jurisdiction
of the B.C. government over them and their traditional territory.
Hereditary Chief Qwatsinas told Justice Oliver, "We are
defending our law just as you are defending your law." The Chiefs
stated, "We have a responsibility for this land and territory. We
can not sign a paper that would mean we could no longer care for
The 3 hereditary chiefs remained in jail until an October
16 hearing, at which a trial date of December 4 was set.
Approximately 200 people came to the Vancouver courthouse to
support the chiefs and the other 19 arrestees at the hearing.
Still refusing to agree to honor the injunction, the 3 chiefs
were returned to jail afterwords.
Head Chief Nuximlayc's wife Amelia became suddenly ill and
the chief was released on October 17 to be with her at the
hospital, where she passed on later that day. Chiefs Qwatsinas
and Slicxwliqw also signed agreements to honor the injunction and
were released the following day.
Trial began in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday December 4,
for the 22 people arrested for violating the injunction against
protecting Ista from logging. The 17 Nuxalkmc and 5 FAN members
question the court's jurisdiction over Nuxalk territory.
"We have an obligation to our potlatch system to protect the
land, which gives us our songs and dances," stated Hereditary
Chief Slicxwliqw. "I cannot allow myself to accept the assumption
of jurisdiction that the Canadian government want to have over
Court came to a halt, that day, when Justice Saunders
stepped down from the bench due to charges of conflict of
interest on the grounds that she issued the original injunction.
Court reconvened the following morning under Superior Court
Justice Smith. The Ista defenders have built their defense on the
fact that the court has no jurisdiction over Nuxalk lands. Paul
Hundel, lawyer for the Ista defenders, asked the court to prove
its jurisdiction by providing extinguishment papers for Nuxalk
territory. The court was unable to do so. Justice Smith
subsequently refused to recognize Nuxalk sovereignty and ruled
they have no jurisdiction over their own territory.
The three Nuxalk hereditary chiefs, followed by the other 19
defendants, walked out of the court house in disgust. According
to Hereditary Chief Qwatsinas, "The whiteman's court system
cannot define our people. Our law allows us to protect our land,
their law allows destruction. When we go out to protect our land
and forests, we go out with the law given by the Creator."
Surprisingly, Justice Smith twice refused the prosecutor's
request to issue arrest warrants for the 22 defender of Ista. He
has instead postponed their trial until January 15, 1996.
In defense of their actions, the Nuxalk Nation cites both
the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Royal
Proclamation of October 7, 1763. The Charter states that its
guarantees, "...shall not be construed so as to abrogate or
derogate from any aboriginal, treaty or other rights or freedoms
that pertain to the aboriginal people of Canada including
a) any rights or freedoms that have been recognized by the
Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763; and
b) any rights or freedoms that now exist by way of land
claims agreements or may be so acquired."
And the following is contained within the Royal
Proclamation: "...whereas it is just and reasonable, and
essential to our Interest, and the Security of our Colonies,
that the several Nations or Tribes of Indians with whom We are
connected, and who live under our Protection, would not be
molested or disturbed in session of such Parts of Our Dominions
and Territories as, not having been ceded to or purchased by Us,
as aforesaid, are reserved to the said Indians, or any of
them...and...strictly forbid our Subjects from making purchase or
Settlements whatever, or taking possession of any of the Lands
above without our especial leave and license for that Purpose
The British Columbia Treaty Commission is attempting to deal
with the lack of treaties and unceded lands within their province
by engaging the First Nations in treaty and land claims
discussions, but the Nuxalk Nation states: "The government is
fooling a lot of Indian people today, and they say we have to
settle our land claims through the B.C. Treaty Commission. The
B.C. Treaty Commission is set up by the white government to wipe
out all our rights as Nuxalk People. We DON'T have to sign
treaties with ANYONE. The government has no right to take away
what was given to our people by Tatau, the Creator."
"We will do whatever is necessary to protect what little
we have left for our children, our grandchildren and those yet
House of Smayusta
P.O. Box 8
Bella Coola, B.C.
Canada V0T 1C0
Phone: (604) 799-5376
Forest Action Network
Bella Coola, Canada V0T 1C0
Phone: (604) 799-5800
Article to be published in the next issue of On Indian Land.
For subscription rates please write to:
On Indian Land
PO Box 2104
Seattle, WA, 98111
Email Typist: Ray Morton, Nuxalk Nation, Bella Coola
[Forwarded with permission from David Goldman
of the Forest Action Network. -Michele]
+*~+*~+*~+*~+~+*~+*~+*~+*~+~+*~+*~+*~+*~+~+*~+*~+*~+*~+~+*~+*~+*~+*+ "When we walk upon Mother Earth, we always plant our feet carefully because we know the faces of our future generations are looking up at us from beneath the ground. We never forget them." -Oren Lyons, Onondaga Nation *~+*~+*~+*~+*~+*~+*~+*~+*~+*~+*~+*~+*~+*~+*~+*~+*~+*~+*~+*~+*~+*~+~* Michele Lord LoomWork firstname.lastname@example.org +*+ +*+ +*+ +*+ +*+ +*+
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