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First Nations Historical Timeline

Before contact the First Nations of North America were self-sustaining societies with complex social, economic and political structures. These complex systems continue today.

1763 Royal Proclamation of October 1763 is signed. This document explicitly recognizes aboriginal title; aboriginal land ownership and authority are recognized by the Crown as continuing under British sovereignty. It states that only the Crown could acquire lands from First Nations and only by treaty. By the 1850s major treaties are signed with First Nations east of the Rocky Mountains.
1778 Captain Cook explores the BC coast and claims British sovereignty.
1849 A British Colony is established on Vancouver Island. The Hudson's Bay Company was given rights to trade by the Crown. Chief Factor Douglas was instructed to purchase First Nations land. He made 14 treaties in the area near Victoria, 1850-54. The colony ran out of money for treaties. Small reserves were created as protection from aggressive land acquisition by settlers. Under Douglas, First Nations were able to acquire land like settlers. After he retired the policy was reversed. First Nations people could not acquire Crown land. Colonial officials like Joseph Trutch said First Nations title had never been acknowledged, and no compensation was offered.
1858 Fraser River Gold rush. A colony is established on the mainland of British Columbia. The influx of new immigrants changed the nature of the territory. Europeans and Americans believed that the land was empty and free for the taking.
1862 One of the worst small pox epidemics sweeps British Columbia, killing one third of the First Nations population in the province. Waves of epidemics decimated First Nations populations.
1867 Canada is created under the terms of the British North America Act.
1871 British Columbia joins Confederation. The population was made up of a majority of First Nations people but they were given no role in the decision making process of the province.
1876 The Indian Act is established. It influences all aspect of a First Nations person's life from birth to death. Indian Bands were created and Indian Agents became the intermediaries between First Nations people and the rest of the country.
1884 Anti-potlatch laws were enacted under the Indian Act. Responsibility for the education of children was given in large part to church-run residential schools. There was resistance to the aggressive polices of the governments. The people retained a profound conviction that their hereditary title still exists.
1887 A delegation of chiefs from Port Simpson and the Nass went to Victoria "to petition for the return of their lands" and a formal treaty guaranteeing their rights to those lands "forever."
1893 Duncan Campbell Scott becomes Deputy Superintendent General of the Department of Indian Affairs. His stated objective was assimilation. He ruled the department until 1932.
1899 At a protest blockade near Fort St. John, the First Nations demanded a treaty and halted the flow of miners. As a result, Treaty 8 was negotiated.
1909-1910 First Nations make application to King Edward VII to have the Privy Council determine aboriginal title. The request was denied.
1910 Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier visits British Columbia. He supports recognition of aboriginal rights. There is deep division between the federal and provincial government as to the recognition of aboriginal title.
1912-1916 McKenna-McBride Royal Commission established in response to increasing pressure from new settlers in British Columbia. The Commission visited every First Nations group in the province and received applications for additional reserve lands. In some places, additional lands were reserved while in others lands were cut-off and reserves reduced in size.
1915 Allied Tribes of British Columbia formed to pursue recognition of title and treaties.
1922 Chief Dan Cranmer and his guests are arrested for attending his potlatch in Alert Bay. Forty-five people are convicted and 17 are sent to prison. Their ceremonial regalia was also illegally seized.
1927 Indian Act amended to make it illegal for First Nations to raise money or retain a lawyer to advance land claims, thereby blocking effective political court action.
1931 The Native Brotherhood of British Columbia is formed at a December meeting at Port Simpson, with delegates from Masset, Hartley Bay, Kitkatla, Port Essington and Metlakatla.
1949 First Nations people in British Columbia are permitted to vote in provincial elections.
1951 Parliament repeals Indian Act provisions of anti-potlatch and land claims activity.
1960 First Nations people in Canada are permitted to vote in federal elections.
1960s Formation of Tribal Councils throughout the province.
1969 - Nisga'as go to court with the Calder case. The Supreme Court rules that the Nisga'a did hold title to their traditional lands before BC was created. The Court splits evenly on whether Nisga'a still have title.
- The Federal government, under Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister of Indian Affairs Jean Cretien, issues its White Paper, advocating policies which promote the assimilation of First Nations people. There is nation-wide political activity to counter the White Paper.
- Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs formed.
1972 Indian Control of Indian Education policy document written by National Indian Brotherhood advocating parental responsibility and local control over First Nations education. This policy is accepted by federal government a year later.
1973 In the Calder case, the Supreme Court rules that the Nisga'a did hold title to their traditional lands before B.C. was created. The Court splits evenly on whether Nisga'a still have title. The federal government adopts a comprehensive land claims policy. B.C. refuses to participate.
1970s-1980s Increased First Nations action and the evolution of political structures. The province still will not recognize aboriginal title nor negotiate treaties. Tribal Councils continue to emerge representatives of historic tribal groups.
1982 Canada's Constitutional Act, Section 35, recognizes and affirms existing Aboriginal and treaty rights.
1989 The Premier's Council on Native Affairs is created to meet with First Nations and prepare recommendations to the government on a range of issues. The Ministry of Aboriginal Affair is formed, with Jack Weisgerber as Minister.
1990 - Oka Crisis receives national attention when Mohawk warriors in armed stand-off with the Quebec police and Canadian army over the land at Oka. First Nations across the country rally to support the Mohawks and to emphasize their demands for recognition of inherent aboriginal title and rights.
- Sparrow Supreme Court decision concludes that the Musqueam people's aboriginal right to fish for food and ceremonial purposed has not been extinguished.
- British Columbia agreed to join the First Nations and Canada in treaty negotiations.
- First Nations, B.C. and Canada agree to establish a task force to develop a process for land claim negotiations in B.C.
1991 - Chief Justice McEachern dismisses the Gitxsan-Wet'suwet'en Chiefs' claim in the case of Delgamuukw v. Her Majesty the Queen.
- Nisga'a Tribal Council, B.C. and Canada sign a tripartite framework agreement which sets out the scope, process and topics for negotiations. This agreement is outside the treaty process which is subsequently put in place.
1992 First Nations Summit, Canada and B. C. establish Treaty Commission.
1993 The B. C. Treaty Commission begins the treaty negotiation process.
1994 The B.C. Treaty Commission, B.C. and Canada hold initial meetings with the 42 First Nations who have submitted Statements of Intent to negotiate.
1995 Gustafson Lake standoff. A major military operation was directed at a small group of protesters.
1996 The Nisga'a, BC and Canada sign an Agreement-In-Principle.
1997 Supreme Court hands down its unanimous decision on the Delgamuukw Case. The court ruled that aboriginal title to the land had never been extinguished. The previous trial judge had erred by not accepting oral history as evidence in the case. The claim was sent back to trial, suggesting that negotiations were the best way to resolve outstanding claims.