LAAYKSEN MUSTIMUHW AND SNUW'UY'UL
The Laayksen Mustimuhw – or honoured people of Laayksen - has had two-thirds of our traditional territory stolen from us by the Canadian government. The little territory that we do have is not viable, in that it lacks even the basic infrastructure to ensure safety. Due to the safety needs (or lack thereof), not one of our members is able to reside on our traditional territory. We have sacred bathing sites, traditional hunting and fishing grounds, burial sites, and all the teaching of our Ancestors on that land, and yet we can only ‘visit’ when the weather permits. The Laayksen People are unable to gather in our community, or in a Laayksen Thi’Lelum (big house) and this is where the teachings, the language, our culture and tradition are shared. This paper will address the history of Laayksen, show how our territory was taken, explore the cultural and traditional implications of land loss and address the necessity of a viable land base. Finally, I will address the human rights violations implicit in such, and make recommendations to address them.
As I write this I am still feeling a sense of Indigenous inner peace. This weekend I had the privilege of spending the day in the Thi'Lelum (Big House). This day was full of singing, dancing and teachings. My little namesake received her traditional Hul'qumi'num name. There is nothing more fulfilling for the Indigenous spirit than a day immersed in culture and tradition. I left the Thi'Lelum reminded of the teachings of our Ancestors. Reminded of the resistance and resiliency of our People. Reminded of another way of life.
I need to be reminded of another way of life. I am frustrated and angry because as a Laayksen person, I do not have easy access to culture and tradition, to our Thi'Lelum, or to a Laayksen community.  The Laayksen Mustimuhw - or honoured people of Laayksen - have been dispossessed of two-thirds of our traditional territory. The little territory that we do have is not deemed viable, in that it lacks even the basic infrastructure to ensure safety. As such, the Laayksen People do not gather in our community, or in a Laayksen Thi'Lelum.
This paper is about the history of Laayksen and will discuss how our territory was taken from us. Further, I will explore the cultural and traditional implications of land loss and the lack of a viable land base. Finally, I will address the human rights violations resulting from the loss of our lands and culture, and make recommendations to address them.
The connection between traditional people and their territory is unique. Special Rappaorteur, Mrs. Erica-Irene A. Daes (2001) states that for Indigenous peoples, "[t]he relationship with the land and all living things is at the core of indigenous societies." The 'core' of Indigenous societies includes not just possession of land, but connection to our Ancestors, our culture and tradition, our languages and our sacred places.
Valdes Island is the ancestral territory of the modern Lyackson First Nation - a small, Central Coast Salish Hulq'umin'um community of 167 members presently based in Chemainus, Vancouver Island. The Lyackson community descends from four main ancestors - Thi'Xvulece , Swin'yleth , Swute'se'Dick , and Shulqvilum (Guerin 1997) - who traditionally settled the winter villages of T 'a'at'ka7 , Th'a' x el and Th' x we'ksen , - located, respectively, at Shingle Point, Cardale Point and Porlier Pass of Valdes Island (Rozen 1978,1985; Suttles 1952). The Lyackson First Nation currently manages three land reserves which comprise a third of Valdes Island , where they persist to engage traditional land-use practices on a seasonal basis (McLay 1999, 32).
Unquestionably, Valdes Island is the traditional territory of the Laayksen First Nations and has been since time immemorial. Archaeologist Eric McLay (2003) has reported that there are approximately 60 archaeological sites recorded throughout the Island , sites that indicate our People extensively used the Island , tip-to-tip for at least 4500 - 5000 years. However, our reality, as evident from the above evidence and the attached Modern Land-Use Map (Appendix A), is that Laayksen People - today - have possession of only one-third of our traditional territory. Further, we have only limited access to that territory, as the Island does not even have the infrastructure necessary to ensure safety when arriving at or departing from the Island (the issue of a viable land base is further explored later on in this paper).
Snuw'uy'ul is a Hul'qumi'num word translated roughly into English as "our way of life," "our way of being on Mother Earth." It is our language, our governance, our culture and tradition, our sacred bathing holes; it is spirituality and all the teachings. Snuw'uy'ul was our way of life prior to contact. Worldwide Indigenous peoples had their ways of being on our Mother the Earth. We were self-determining nations.
Currently, there is emerging support for Indigenous peoples worldwide and their right for protection under international law. However, as Daes (2000) states:
The question remains, what is self-determination? For the Laayksen People, self-determination is best summed up by the Hul'qumi'num word Snuw'uy'ul . Even though a fundamental principle of international law is the right of self-determination, which is outlined in Articles 1 and 55 of the United Nations Charter, Buchheit (1978) concludes that "the principle of self-determination" is "frighteningly obscure." There is a difference between the UN invocation of self-determination and the use of the term by Indigenous peoples. The UN definition of 'self determination' is state centered and limited. Daes (2000) claims that for the most part, governments have accepted the "right of internal self-government"; in other words, the right for Indigenous people to live on and manage a particular piece of land but remain under state control. Indigenous peoples' definition of self-determination, however, as described by our term Snuw'uy'ul, is much more far-reaching than the state-centered version. Snuw'uy'ul is centered around collective rights of the Laayksen People to govern themselves in a cultural and traditional way based on the teachings of our Ancestors.
In addition to the right to self-determination, the UN Draft Declaration and the Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (as well as other covenants and declarations) outline a number of other rights for Indigenous peoples, including but not limited to the following:
Yet, there remains a vital issue that must be addressed if Indigenous peoples are to have their rights protected. Many of these rights are intrinsically interrelated and inseparable. Daes (2001) empathizes that the "spiritual and material foundations of their [Indigenous peoples'] cultural identities are sustained by their unique relationships to their traditional territories." Access to our traditional territory is therefore absolutely critical. However, the viability of the traditional territory must be addressed. A viable land base would ensure that the Laayksen People could operate or function on our territory. The land must have an infrastructure that meets basic safety standards. Without an accessible, viable land base, we are unable to pursue our fundamental human rights. For example, we cannot act upon the right to revitalize our spiritual beliefs if we cannot gather as a community on our traditional territory, as is the case for the Laayksen People.
Daes (2001) states, "land and resource issues, particularly the dispossession of indigenous peoples from their lands, are issues of the most urgent and fundamental nature ." Another issue that Daes speaks to in her reports is relocation. For the Laayksen People, dispossession and relocation are two of our 'most urgent and fundamental' concerns; however, we are equally concerned that our traditional territory is neither viable nor accessible.
As such, for the Laayksen People of Vancouver Island , BC , Canada , our rights - our Snuw'uy'ul - are not being recognized. For many reasons, the needs of the Laayksen People are very unique. First, our land base is not accessible. An inaccessible land base means that our people are denied not only their right to live on Valdes Island, but the right to protect our land, gather as a people, practice our culture and tradition, learn from our Elders, and access all of the local resources. Second, we do not have one Laayksen person living in our traditional territory, as there is not the necessary infrastructure to make living permanently on the Island possible. Third, our traditional territory is one of the last remaining land bases that is virtually undeveloped, and consequently an area that is still rich in wildlife, shellfish, and other resources. Having only legal claim to a land base is not enough to ensure self-determination, one of our primary human rights. What we need is a viable land base.
Land dispossession on Valdes Island
During the spring and summer months, the Laayksen People traveled to other areas of Vancouver Island and British Columbia to fish and gather. It was not unusual for our People to travel up the Fraser Valley to fish sockeye. Throughout the winter months, our People returned to Valdes Island . As already indicated above, the Laayksen traditionally had three permanent winter villages on the Island . Th' x we'ksen or "Shining Point" is one of the village sites and is today known as Porlier Pass. Another permanent village site is Th'a' x el or " Gravelly Place " and is now known as Cardale Point. The third village site is T'a'at'ka7 or "Place of many Salal Berries," and is commonly referred to as Shingle Point (see Appendix B - Hul'qumi'num Place-Names Map - but note that the spellings that McLay provides differ from the map which was provided by the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Office)(McLay 1999, 36 - 37).
The permanency of these village sites became increasingly fragile as settlers began to encroach onto Vancouver Island . James Douglas, Governor of the "Gold Colony," the colonies of Vancouver Island and BC Mainland together, realized "that before hwunitum [white] settlement of the Cowichan and Chemainus valleys could occur, and to ensure the safety of hwunitum settlers on Salt Spring Island, Hwulmuhw title to do the land would have to be extinguished" (Arnett 1999, 99). Arnett (1999) documents the unrelenting resistance of the Hul'qumi'num people to this settlement in his book The Terror of the Coast: Land Alienation and Colonial War on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands , 1849 - 1863 . He tells of Douglas 's struggle to convince the Hwulmuhw (Hul'qumi'num word for traditional people) to extinguish title to their lands, for he knew that if he did not obtain title to them, the Hwulmuhw would fight for what was theirs (Arnett 1999).
The local people did not sell their lands; there were no land sale agreements between the Hul'qumi'num and European peoples. In short, the Hul'qumi'num have never signed treaties. Arnett (1999) asserts that "[t]he real reasons that land sale agreements were not made was because many Cowichan, Halalt, Lamalcha, Penelakut, Chemainus and other si'em [respected people] would not sell their people's land at any price."
In 1876, Captain Baldwin Wake, as a part of his naval and preemption grant, staked his claim at the northern tip of Valdes Island . His presence on the Island was unacceptable to the Laayksen People. They objected:
Despite Laayksen demands, the Joint Reserve Commission proceeded in setting up "reservation" lands on the Island . As our People did not live year-round in 'villages' in the European sense of the word, the allotted reservations were based solely on our winter village sites (Harris 2002, 25). Therefore, at this time, only Shingle Point Indian Reserve No. 4, Porlier Pass (also known as Cayetano Point) Indian Reserve No. 5, and Lyackson Indian Reserve No. 3 were established.  The remainder of the Island was left "undesignated," with exception of the Wake property (see Appendix A - Modern Land-Use Map)(McLay 1999, 38).
In 1881, S.M. Robins of the Vancouver Island Coal Mining Company purchased the remainder of Valdes Island (McLay 2003, 1). Since that purchase, the territory has been clear-cut and mined. The ownership of this land has changed hands a few times, and today is the property of the multinational corporation Weyerhaeuser.
As Laayksen fought to retain their land, the establishment of residential schools worked against their struggles. Our community became more vulnerable as our small population was even further reduced when children were forced to leave the Island to attend these institutions:
In my opinion, residential schools have been the single most devastating issue that First Nations people in Canada have had to face. These schools, combined with the taking of our territory, were direct attempts to assimilate our People to euro-centric ways of knowing and being; to resocialize First Nations children into European values and beliefs. The process of resocialization involved a collaborative effort between the churches and the government to eliminate the familial and community connections, Aboriginal languages, and traditions and beliefs of the First Nations students (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, hereafter RCAP 1996, 337). The intended consequences of this plan are evident from the following statement:
Haunani Kay Trask (2000) describes colonization as a historical process with genocide being the official policy. Residential schools are but one example of this sort of policy, one developed and launched by the Canadian government essentially to foster an Indigenous cultural death. "The government and the churches . explicitly agreed that the ultimate goal of education was the assimilation (the operative euphemism for cultural genocide) of First Nations peoples" (Chrisjohn and Young 1993, 2). By disconnecting children from their culture, tradition, family, and community they could directly attack their First Nations ontology (RCAP 1996, 341). To this end, the churches needed to break down the First Nations worldview and replace it with a Christian worldview, and especially with Christian morality.
Once in residential school, formal education was not the priority. Rather, it was assimilation, or more appropriately genocide. Chrisjohn and Young (1993) convincingly argue that residential schools were genocidal.
Although Canada adopted the United Nations Genocide Convention on May 21, 1952,  "Residential Schools continued to operate for some 30 years after Canada signed the Convention" (Chrisjohn and Young 1993, 41).
Culture and Tradition
All that is left for the present day Laayksen People are the three original permanent villages, which were "reserved" by the government in May 1876 by the Joint Indian Reserve Commission. The Commission was created as a joint effort between the Province and the Dominion to deal with the "Indian land question" (Harris 2002). Later that year the Commission allocated 1,800 acres of reserved land on Valdes Island (Harris 2002).
The lack of access to our traditional territories combined with the devastating impacts of residential schools put our culture and tradition at risk of being lost forever. First Nations children were forced to speak English and pray to a Christian god; our language, culture and tradition were nearly eliminated completely. Indeed, many of our people do not speak our language. We must begin a process whereby we can once again pass on these invaluable teachings to our People.
Without adequate access to our traditional land and without the ability to gather as a people in a common territory, it is extremely hard to begin to pass teachings on to our People. Article 14 of the Draft UN Declaration affirms that:
However, the Draft UN Declaration has not been ratified. As such, these 'rights' are, at best, an ideal not a reality. Our ability to revitalize and maintain our language, culture and tradition is gravely hampered by not being able to meet as a community - as a People. We are Hul'qumi'num speaking People. It is predominately through the Big House and our Winter Dances that our culture, tradition and language is passed on from generation to generation. In most Big Houses, the only language spoken is Hul'qumi'num. The rights to our culture, spiritual beliefs, and to our languages are human rights recognized in Article II of the Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Simply by sitting in the Big House the young people are exposed to the language; this is where maintaining and revitalizing our language will begin. It is therefore vital that the Laayksen People have a Thi'lelum on their traditional territory so that we can share the language, pass on the teachings, learn from the Elders, and simply have a place to gather. Our culture and tradition continues to take place in our Thi'lelum. We have many dances, masks, and songs that are very sacred and will not be 'practiced' or 'performed' publicly. As such, without the Big House, we risk losing forever those dances, masks and songs that are Laayksen specific. This simply cannot happen.
Presently, Laayksen has 174 registered band members. Of these, not one member resides in our traditional territory. This is the result of many issues, one of which is the lack of compensation for the dispossession of our traditional territory, and another the lack of accessibility to those traditional territories. Financially, our Band is wholly dependent on Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC). This arm of the federal government, however, funds Bands based on per capita numbers of "registered" band members residing on reserve. As we have no band members living on our reserve, we are entitled to miniscule financial support through INAC. Currently, we have a Band office on Chemainus Band Lands, and our presence on those lands entitles us to the inadequate financial support that we do receive. As such, we are not in a position to develop or maintain our traditional territory - and more importantly, we are therefore unable to become economically independent of the federal government. To further complicate this situation, our culture and tradition continues to be acutely vulnerable to the pressures of settler society.
Protecting our Traditional Territory
Protecting our territory is critical. Over the years our gravesites have been vandalized many times - the last reported case being in March 2002 (Robinson 2003). As well, in 1997, Macmillan Blodel blasted one of our burial caves while building a logging road. By not being physically on Valdes Island , we cannot watch over our lands. Moreover, access to the Island is restricted, given the absence of proper docking facilities, protecting our territory, our sacred sites, and our Ancestors is almost impossible.
Article VII of the Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights states, in part:
Further, Article X. Spiritual and religious freedom stipulates that:
Without our physical presence on the Island , we cannot protect our Ancestors, our sacred bathing holes, or our medicine, or other resources. The Draft UN Declaration Article 24, states that:
The pristine nature of our territory must also be protected. If we are not on the Island we cannot stop the poaching of our wildlife or the raping of our shellfish, nor can we protect the habitat for the wildlife. A physical presence of our people on our traditional territory is vital in protecting our land. International law speaks to the right of Indigenous people to their traditional territory, but not specifically to a 'viable land base,' as discussed below. We cannot protect our traditional territory if our land is inaccessible.
Viability - Safety/Infrastructure
A fundamental concern for our people begins with living in an environment that provides at least the basic amenities to ensure safety. These would include proper docking facilities, adequate watercraft, telephone service, running water, and electricity. Indeed, the last of our people had to leave Valdes because they had health concerns and were unable to arrive or leave the Island when those concerns demanded. I also believe that viability of our Island would increase our chances to strengthen and maintain our culture and tradition, our language, the lands of our Ancestors, all that was and is Laayksen - Snuw'uy'ul.
As we are still 'ruled' by INAC (since we do not have a treaty), we believe that it is the responsibility of that agency to develop the necessary infrastructure to ensure our safety. Without it, accessing and living on the Island remains impractical, if not impossible, for us. I contend that this is a violation of our basic human rights. Indeed, the lack of adequate infrastructure would essentially deny the Laayksen People basic rights to employment and education. Because people cannot presently be guaranteed safe passage to and from the Island , reasonable access to employment and education off the Island is not available. Article 26 of the ILO Convention No. 169 stipulates, however, that:
While these statements are encouraging, we must be reminded that only 17 countries have ratified this Convention and Canada is not one of them. Moreover, even though ILO169 is considered binding under international law, the Draft Declaration is not. Our ability to use these conventions and declaration to ensure our human rights are met is very limited.
Human Rights Violations
One of the most devastating human rights violations for our people was having the majority of our traditional territory taken from us. We have never been compensated either financially or otherwise for this violation. These lands were simply stolen and the effects of land dispossession have been immeasurable:
The Declaration of Principles on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states the following:
The Laayksen, like other Hul'qumi'num speaking people, have never surrendered or ceded our territory. Our lands were stolen from us. Even today, under the guise of seeking to administer justice, the government enters into modern day 'treaty' negotiations with us. In 1990, The BC Claims Task Force recommended the establishment of a BC Treaty Commission to develop a process for negotiating claims. At best, this process has been cumbersome and excruciatingly slow. The onus remains on the First Nations to prove their traditional territory. None of the Nations in our treaty group, Hul'qumi'num, have ever signed a treaty nor ceded their lands. Why is it our responsibility to prove anything?
The treaty negotiation process is a framework; in fact, it is simply a fill-in-the-blanks process. The governments predetermined what the process would look like, who could be involved, how many people could be involved, and what would and would not be on the table. For example, at the onset of the liberal party's term in the British Columbia government in 2001,the following issues were all prohibited from negotiations: self-government and the sources for self government, general provisions and all related legal issues, fiscal relations, taxation, constitutional status of land, fee simple land and willing sellers (First Nations Summit 2001, 1). How can such a substantial list of prohibitions like this constitute negotiations? More specifically, what this process highlights is Canada and BC's ongoing commitment to assimilation.
Laayksen People resisted giving up any of their territory. We knew that Valdes Island belonged to us. I believe it is a fallacy to call this "negotiating" when at best it is a "framework" to extinguish our rights to our traditional territory. In and of itself, the dispossession of our traditional lands violates the above listed Principles (3-7) of Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
ILO Convention No. 169, Article 14, states that:
Undoubtedly, the sixty known archaeological sites from the north end to the southern tip of Valdes Island, along with the traditional Laayksen village sites and names (see Appendix B), as well as our traditional hunting, fishing and gathering sites, are proof enough that the Laayksen People occupied these territories. Our right to ownership of our lands is absolutely being violated. The Laayksen People must have their traditional territory returned so that we can heal from the scaring and ravages that our people have faced. As multinational companies such as Weyerhaeuser get richer off of our lands, our people remain the poorest of the poor.
Former residential school students live out daily the many abuses they experienced at the schools. Chrisjohn and Young (1993) describe the psychosocial indicators of cultural disruption, which may be seen as successful indicators of the federal policy of assimilation, as including depression, elevated level of suicide, family violence and breakdown, education failure, substance abuse, addictions, lack of trust, unemployment, identity, and eating disorders. Furniss (1992) refers to the impact of residential schools as cultural alienation.
Haunani Kay Trask (2000) discusses a Frantz Fanon concept called a "peaceful violence." This is the type of violence that kills without a sound, without passing notice from the public. This is the violence of prisons, landlessness, poverty, welfare, hospitals, ill health, poverty, racism, oppression, and lack of adequate education. These are the day-to-day realities of Indigenous peoples worldwide, yet they can remain absolutely invisible to most Americans.
Clearly, the residential school policy was a violation of human rights on many levels. The UN Draft Declaration and the Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples declare a number of rights, for my argument, I will focus on three:
Unquestionably, all of these rights were violated when our children were forcibly removed from their homes and required to live in residential schools. The goal of these schools was assimilation, not cultural integration. All that was "cultural" about these children was forbidden. For example, English was the only language spoken and Christ was the only god prayed to. Since the core of culture is in our language and spirituality, an attempt to directly attack our Snuw'uy'ul was lodged.
Article 27 of the Covenant of Civil and Political Rights ". recognizes the right of ethnic groups to special protection on their use of their own language, for the practice of their own religion, and, in general for all those characteristics necessary for the preservation of their cultural identity" (Anaya 2000, 100).
In Lovelace v. Canada the U. N. Human Rights Committee determined that Canada was violating Article 27. The Committee claimed that by being unable to reside on her reservation, Lovelace was denied access to the culture and language of her People. An analogy is that given the fact that Laayksen People do not live collectively on their traditional territory, we too are being denied access to our culture and language, which is, as with Lovelace, a violation of Article 27.
Daes (2001) asserts that ".land and resource issues, particularly the dispossession of indigenous peoples from their lands, are issues of the most urgent and fundamental nature." We agree, and plead with Canada to return our rightful lands to us and to grant compensation for all that has been taken from us. Land and culture are intimately connected, and presently, as Laayksen People, we have only limited access to these.
Culture and land are two of the fundamental rights of Indigenous peoples worldwide and they are intrinsically linked. They are also an intrinsic part of our Snuw'uy'ul and we demand the right to practice our Snuw'uy'ul - our way of being.
In Geneva , on July 25, 2001 John Sinclair, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, delivered the following statement on behalf of the federal government.
The Laayksen People recommend:
In her recent report on Lands, Daes (2001) states that:
The Laayksen People recommend:
As for the genocide that Canada legislated, we recommend:
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Qwul'sih'yah'maht, Robina Thomas , is Laayksen of the Coast Salish Nation. She presently teaches in the School of Social Work and is a PhD. student in the Indigenous Governance Program, both at the University of Victoria .
ĆELÁNEN: A Journal of Indigenous Governance, February/2004, Vol 1, No. 1.