When the Ladner brothers returned to Canada from California in 1858, two guides from the Tsawwassen tribe ferried them up the Chilukthan Slough to Canoe Pass. At the time there was a British gunship at the mouth of the Fraser exacting a tax from all who wished to travel upriver and the brothers were able to avoid payment thanks to their guides.
The Ladners later returned to the delta with other pioneers and took possession of land under the authority of the Preemption Act of 1860. In keeping with the act, any man could claim 160 acres of untitled land for himself and his family. The price of land was set at a flat rate that could be paid over time and much of the Fraser Valley was settled this way.
When members of the Tsawwassen began preempting land, the act was changed to preclude its use by aboriginals except by special exemption.
With the settlers the Tsawwassen built dikes, cleared scrub and helped to pull the land out of the mud. While this was done, the boundaries of the land they could call their own became smaller and smaller. Cut off from traditional means of support, they became involved with the work of the canneries and the farms, day labourers on the property of others.
In 1914 a petition from Chief Harry Joe of the Tsawwassen was put before a commission set up to define reserve boundaries:
"We stand and ask for clear title to our land and that we will know what land we're using and know it belongs to nobody but us...
As we have been following the art of agriculture for many good number of years and we know the land is ours by means of our living, that is the reason that we want to get title of our land."
This request was denied as was a similar one in 1925. And the superabundance of natural resources available in pioneer times was whittled away to its present poverty.
These are events that have happened in our municipality, some within living memory. There is no doubt whatsoever that large parts of Delta and beyond fall within the territory of the Tsawwassen.
While I believe the preservation of farmland is vital, both inside and outside the ALR, it is clear that our government and its agents had obligations that needed to be fulfilled. They have had many chances in the past to do the right thing and have chosen to do otherwise. They have now been compelled, by force of law, to settle these matters.
Information from an 1878 census, taken after small pox had reduced the population of Coast Salish in British Columbia by at least two-thirds, sets the number of adults in the Tsawwassen village at 33. With these numbers we can calculate the land due the tribe if every member exercised the rights of pre-emption afforded at the time to citizens of the crown: 5,280 acres.
If the Tsawwassen were to take possession of all their traditional territories that area would be increased into the hundreds of thousands of hectares and extend over land and sea. Through the treaty they have received around 1,800 acres, including the reserve they already occupy.
In October of 2007 Chief Kim Baird stood before the legislature and described the conditions the Tsawwassen find themselves in today:
"We have a tiny postage stamp of a reserve, a small fraction of a percentage of traditional territory, fronting a dead body of water, trapped between two massive industrial operations.
Our land and aquatic ecosystems have been fouled beyond human comprehension."
To lecture the Tsawwassen on land stewardship, and to suggest the land remain bound with restrictive covenants such as ALR designation, flies in the face of the reconciliation this treaty is meant to achieve and is rightly rejected.
For further information read Harvesting the Fraser and Above the Sandheads, both available at the Delta Museum and Archives and the Ladner Pioneer Library.