Esquimalt and Songhees Nations are receiving official replicas of the Douglas treaties as the Royal B.C. Museum awaits word on the documents’ world heritage status from UNESCO.
The 1850s land deal documents are being made more accessible after “entire generations” of First Nations have gone without seeing the once-secretive treaties, said Jack Lohman, CEO of Royal B.C. Museum.
“It’s such an important part of the heritage of First Nations, and it’s part of our commitment to share our treasures with everybody,” Lohman said. “And this way, both nations have a part of their own heritage.”
The Douglas treaties were signed in the 1850s and remained the only written agreements with aboriginal people in B.C. until the Nisga’a treaty in 2000. The 14 land title documents were held up by the Supreme Court of Canada as a basis to protect aboriginal rights, and they continue to fuel First Nations lawsuits and land settlements between the province and Canada.
Songhees Chief Ron Sam said he recognizes the treaties are part of his nation’s history, and he felt it was important to stand with the museum in acknowledging their significance.
“A lot of people forget we did sign treaties here,” Sam said. “There is some back and forth over whether we honour them or want to forget about them. We’re in court right now battling over one of our Douglas treaties, but it is important for us to acknowledge them.”
The Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations filed separate lawsuits covering 376 acres in Saanich’s Cadboro Bay in 2012, a matter still before the courts.
The latest announcement coincides with UNESCO’s annual general meeting, held in Victoria for the first time last week. UNESCO officials met with Sam and Esquimalt Chief Andy Thomas, and the original Douglas treaties were brought from the B.C. Archives to the Songhees Wellness Centre during a community dinner last Friday.
“I believe that’s the first time they’ve ever left the building,” Lohman said.
Sam said the community dinner provided a chance for UNESCO officials to learn about Songhees Nation traditions and aspirations with their new conference centre at 1100 Admirals Rd.
Lohman said he’s still awaiting word on whether the Douglas treaties will receive world heritage status from UNESCO’s Memory of the World committee in France.
“We have such great diversity of living heritage here,” he said. “My sense is that B.C. should and must lead Canada in a new recognition of intangible cultural heritage.”
Did you know?
The Our Living Languages: First Peoples’ Voices in B.C. exhibition, an exploration of First Nations languages in B.C., opens June 21 at Royal B.C. Museum.