ÍY, SȻÁĆEL Joni Olson TŦE NE SNÁ. Tsartlip First Nation is my home community. I am a W̱SÁNEĆ person. My name is Joni Olson. I work at the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council, but hopefully we’ll just be answering the questions today, as per who I am as a W̱SÁNEĆ woman. HÍSW̱ḴE
What does to hunt and fish as formerly mean to our ancestors?
To me it means to care for the environment in which the animals that we hunt and that we fish live in. It’s more of like, how can I contribute to our territory to ensure that there’s proper habitat and food for the things that we hunt and fish. It also means that it provides the ability to hunt and fish for whatever needs that my family may have, whether that be for food or for financial gain, because that’s also a need of a family.
Do you think historical activities included management and trade?
I do think that historical activities included management and trade. I’ve been a student for many years and I’ve sort of made it my work to read through a lot of historical, anthropological or interviews that our people have done historically. And there’s definitely a lot of information on trade of clams with the interior nations, replanting of a species from one area to another area of land so that we can cultivate in different spaces than where it was or to rehabilitate if there was loss in a space. You know, so our people historically actively took part in managing the lands so that they could build clam gardens as big as they possibly could, transplanting clams or cultivating the clams, not just harvesting, but the turning of the soil, those types of things. So yeah, it’s very exciting to think about those things because it brings sort of the perspective of how active our people and our societies were out on the land for care and management
Do you think that the Douglas Treaty should have economic rights in a modern context?
Economic rights in a modern context, yes, but it’s complex, right? Because we try and stay really true to our culture and we work with our people to do that, but the modern context is that we’ve been so overly urbanized that to implement our treaty as we would’ve historically, just as lived on the land, is almost impossible. So I think we have to get creative in how we do that. One of the objectives that I would have is land back for all purposes, but for conservation, hunting reserves, those types of things. So that’s something that I’m very interested in. But also I believe that we hold sort of the underlying jurisdiction of land. So, land was never sold. When we sit with government bodies, they often talk about how they don’t have the ability to negotiate or discuss fee simple land because they don’t own it. But I’ve always said, if you wanted to put a highway there or a road through there, you would just appropriate the land and do what you like with it which provides a pretty good example on how the government actually still owns land underneath fee simple property owners. So if you can think of it in that way, I believe that we actually have ownership and jurisdiction under, like a layered jurisdiction underneath where the jurisdiction of the government lies and that we should be able to share in economic activity that happens at that level. And at that level, economic activity is usually taxation. That’s what the government does, is there to apply their jurisdiction to land. So every time a house is sold, they receive 12% property transfer tax and that property transfer tax just goes into the general coffers and that’s how the government applies their underlying jurisdiction over land. And it would be one of my goals moving forward to access that property transfer tax. It wouldn’t increase taxes for fee simple landowners. It would just be a redirection of that property transfer tax that would actually be linked and connected to what we consider our jurisdiction on land.
Do you feel like you should be compensated for the losses our people have endured for the loss of protection of inherent rights?
There has been a very calculated assault on our people over the years that has left our communities in poverty and governments are now looking to divest from the sort of Indian problem that they have and are wanting to discuss things like self-government.
Governments have resources that they can work with and we as indigenous governments don’t have resources left to work with, but we get left with huge problems in housing, social development, pollution on land, those types of things. So two things going forward that we need are sustainable development or sustainable income, which usually comes from development, so land back in terms of not just conservation as we were discussing before, but land back in terms of allowing us to create business like they have done over in Vancouver, but also compensation for pasts so that we can actually invest into our communities to bring some standards of living, housing or health, actually even just for loss, a reparation for loss of things like hunting and harvesting lands so that we can actually maybe purchase lands back also and have a little bit more control of how that happens would be kind of how I would think we should move forward.
Who do you expect to be the communal/collective voice in representing your inherent Douglas Treaty rights?
The communal voice for Douglas Treaty, and I’ve been sort of in politics for quite a long time, and it’s a controversial question because we see our rights as individual rights. But my dad’s court case to me, and I use this as an example, is you get charged through an offense under the Douglas Treaty or under the Provincial Wildlife Act. You get taken to court, you go to the Supreme Court of Canada, you win using the Douglas Treaty as a tool in court and the outcome of that case applies to everyone.
So as much as we like to think it’s an individual sort of act or Treaty, it very much applies to us as a collective. And the effects that we feel of the land that’s taken, the lack of healthy food and our health issues, we feel those as a collective. And so I was in a meeting the other day, I was talking to Slanamo and Chemainus First Nations and they were like, Indian Reserve 11, 12 and 13, Chemainus Indian Reserve 11,12 and 13 all come out and vote in council elections. And I’m like, what? Like, how come we are not W̱SÁNEĆ IR number one through 13 or 11 or however many reserves that we carry as W̱SÁNEĆ? So that colonial structure came into our territory and created us into four separate First Nations.
And you then sort of say W̱SÁNEĆ, you know, under the territorial declaration and as we have always been historically known because we didn’t actually become separate reserves until the fifties, forties or fifties, you know, have been separated out and have colonial government structures that actually prevent us from moving forward as a collective. If you look across Canada, there are tribal councils in the Okanagan. There are tribal councils in Manitoba and Saskatchewan that are utilized to bring the collectives together, to talk about things together and to make sure that we are all on the same page moving forward. And I have a belief system that if we do that with a united voice, then we’re more powerful. And I don’t want to say that I would take it as far as sort of amalgamation into one Nation, but we definitely need to have a collaborative table.
Do I think that one of our communities could do that job? Just with the change of governments and the change of administrations and the change of times, I would fear a lack of consistency for the other nations involved that maybe aren’t at that table, a lack of accountability structure. Not saying that it’s impossible, but I would say that right now the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council really, our foundation is to work with the people. In the position that I sit in, I want to grow that. It’s one of my main objectives to get more people involved in how we think about how we wanna move forward because it’s not just my job, it’s not just Tsartlip’s job. It’s not just a small group of people’s job. It’s all of our jobs. So I do believe that there needs to be a place where we can come together collectively to talk about how to move forward with the things that we’ve talked about today.