The Central Coast Regional District has become the second B.C. government body to recognize officially that the smallpox epidemics of 1862/63 that decimated the indigenous population within its area were an instance of genocide.

The Government of B.C. was the first official body to acknowledge this teaching as a historical fact. It did this in 2014 while exonerating the Chilcotin Chiefs of having done anything wrong in 1864 when killing settlers over the intentional introduction of smallpox.

Many Elders within the Central Coast Regional District consistently have taught that during 1862/63 some colonists spread smallpox intentionally to take land, secure travel corridors and allow dishonorable agents of the Crown to assert control in their territories against the Crown’s own policy as declared in the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

"Nuxalk Woman Discovers Smallpox Bodies - July, 1862" by Shawn Swanky

“Nuxalk Woman Discovers Smallpox Bodies – July, 1862” by Shawn Swanky

The Regional District made this acknowledgment on June 8, 2017, while accepting a report on governance and the delivery of services within its jurisdiction. The District went on to acknowledge that the historical fact of this genocide as one of the means by which the Crown first asserted control over this region must influence its actions today. It will seek ways of improving its governance by engaging the traditional system of governance that was displaced through the smallpox genocide.

The Regional District’s policy statement says, The Wuikinuxv, Heilstsuk and Nuxalk hold a majority population within our region and have never relinquished their rightful authority over their traditional territories. As a consequence of this constitutional circumstance, …it will be imperative, moving forward, that the Traditional Chiefs be respectfully engaged in any decisions made as a result of this study.

The statement includes the following points:

“We note Premier Christy Clark’s Ministerial Statement delivered in the Legislature apologizing to the Tsilhqot’in Nation on behalf of British Columbia ‘for the many wrongs inflicted by past governments’ (Reconciliation with the Tsilhqot’in Nation, BC  Hansard, Oct. 23, 2014, at 4860-1).

We also note her acknowledgment in the same apology that there are reliable historical accounts of smallpox being spread deliberately in the colonial period.

We recognize that the Nuxalk, Heilstsuk and Wuikinuxv (and other tribes) suffered a similar devastating loss of life caused by the same or similar actions, and, in addition, from the policies of the Crown at Victoria carried out with a design to spread smallpox during that period.

The smallpox genocide was just the beginning of the oppression and displacement of Wuikinuxv, Heilstsuk and Nuxalk Nations and other Indigenous Peoples that has occurred and continues to this day.

As such, the five Electoral Area Directors of CCRD wish to acknowledge the depth of the very grave effects of colonialism, genocide and displacement of Wuikinuxv, Heiltsuk and Nuxalk Nations from their traditional lands within the jurisdictional boundaries that the BC Local Government Act identifies as the CCRD region.

We must all embrace the BC legislature’s example of ending the implicit denial of the genocidal activity that has shaped and informed the current jurisdictional framework that impacts governance in our region today.

To this end, it is our wish that future studies designed to direct policy and governance in our region take a more honest and thorough approach to our Region’s history and identity.

Particularly missing [to this point has been] an acknowledgment that the current system of taxation…and the larger CCRD fiscal framework have been constructed without Wuikinuxv’s, Heilstsuk’s and Nuxalk’s consent or input.

[In addition, paying] royalties exclusively to British Columbia and Canada on resources…that traditionally belong to the Indigenous Peoples of the Central Coast…is part of a continuum of colonialism and genocide.”

This policy statement seems in harmony with recent Supreme Court of Canada’s decisions that may touch on the way that the District must approach its mandate to provide governance as delegated to it by the province.

The Supreme Court of Canada has held that provincial governments represent the Crown in relations with Indigenous Peoples on matters within their constitutional jurisdiction. (Grassy Narrows First Nation v. Ontario 2014 SCC 48.) When doing so, they have the same duty in these relations as the federal government to protect the Honor of the Crown. This includes meeting the duties of consultation, accommodation and reconciliation.

The implication of the Court’s further decision in Clyde River (Hamlet) v. Petroleum Geo-Services Inc. (2017 SCC 40) is that when any agencies of the province, such as regional districts, have been empowered to make decisions that may impact Aboriginal rights, the obligation to consult the Peoples so affected comes as an inherent part of that empowerment.

Such agencies then must exercise due diligence to determine the appropriate contacts and means of consultation. Depending on any People’s circumstance as those may have evolved since the non-indigenous community first began the process of asserting control in any People’s territory (between 1862 and 1865 for the Tsilhqot’in and Nuxalk), this may require developing an accepted system of consultation, including financial support as necessary.

This might include any or some combination of a community’s traditional system of governance, where those systems may still have legitimacy in the eyes of their collective constituents; the Chief and Council of the band system, whose authority may not be seen by the collective to extend beyond reserves; or other means reaching sufficient members of the collective entity, who may or may not live on reserves within the district’s boundaries.

The Central Coast Regional District’s outreach is consistent with exploring its duty where this might arise. It is also consistent with several provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and with the Government of Canada’s recent statement of Principles concerning relationships and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, especially s.4 regarding Indigenous self-government, evolving systems and distinct orders of government.

Evidence compiled from the written record supporting the Elders’ account of a smallpox genocide as originated by the survivors in Nuxalk territory can be found in The Smallpox War in Nuxalk Territory by Tom Swanky.

The Central Coast Regional District administration can be contacted at 250.799.5291.

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