Aboriginal Peoples and Politics: The Indian Land Question in British Columbia, 1849-1989


352 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7748-0349-5
DDC 333.2





Reviewed by David Mattison

David Mattison is a librarian with the Provincial Archives and Records
Service Library in Victoria.


Tennant, a ubc associate professor of Political Science, began his
research into the British Columbia Indian land claims issue in 1979. He
comes down squarely on the side of B.C. Natives when he reveals in his
preface that land claim agreements, such as those negotiated in Quebec
and in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, are “appropriate and
feasible” models. Tennant puts no price tag on a settlement between
the federal and provincial governments and Native organizations
(fractious relations still exist among various Native political action
groups). In December 1990 the provincial government, while finally
agreeing to negotiate, balked at any cost-sharing. Tennant disputes the
province’s claim that the federal government is legally and
financially responsible for all land claim issues, an interpretation of
the Terms of Union of 1871 to which only B.C. politicians subscribe.

Tennant’s work, sure to become a classic in the field, documents a
litany of white injustice against legitimate Indian assertions for equal
treatment under British and Canadian law. Native Indians were never
treated fairly or equally; assimilation was expected and even expedited
through such devices as residential schools. The Canadian Indian Act and
provincial legislation circumscribed Indian land ownership and daily
conduct. Impossible conditions were set: to be an Indian meant being
“registered” by the federal government, which conferred the
“status” of Indian. Provincially, Indians were initially denied the
right to own land and to vote. These inequities were only corrected
after World War II.

Forced segregation through residential schools forged political
alliances that survived federal prohibitions against political and land
claims activities by Indians between 1927 and 1951. It is not surprising
that in a province with nearly 200 Indian bands, varying political
outlooks and organizations supporting them evolved. Their names nearly
always reflect solidarity and “pan-Indianism”: Allied Indian Tribes
of B.C. (1916–1927), Confederacy of Native Tribes of B.C.
(1940s–1950s), B.C. Association of Non-Status Indians (1969–1976),
Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (1969–1980s), Alliance of B.C. Indian
Bands (1970s–1980s), and First Nations Congress of B.C. (1988), to
name but a few. The earliest lobby group was established by Nisga’a in
1907; this tribal group was also the first to file a (still unresolved)
land claim with the federal government, in 1974, and the first to bring
their land grievances to the British authorities via petition, in 1913.

Native Indians should be proud of Tennant’s compassionate and
compelling study of their frustrating struggle for rights many Canadians
take for granted. The larger question of Indian self-government, while
briefly discussed by Tennant, remains for further investigation.
Portraits of prominent B.C. Native leaders and a map would have been
useful adjuncts to this thorough, scholarly treatise.


Tennant, Paul., “Aboriginal Peoples and Politics: The Indian Land Question in British Columbia, 1849-1989,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/10695.