The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs was founded in November, 1969, by a majority of Indian chiefs in BC, partly in response to the federal government’s 1969 White Paper, which was a blueprint for assimilating Canada’s First Peoples, and partly as an inevitable outcome of a growing conviction of many of our people that our survival in the face of such policies depended upon our ability to work together.
The UBCIC founding head office is located in Kamloops, BC. The satellite office has had many homes over the years, all in the Lower Mainland, including the Musqueam and Squamish Reserves and Coqualeetza complex in Sardis. For some time now it has been located in the Gastown district of Vancouver.
As you can see from the timeline of events affecting BC First Nations, circumstances made it very difficult to organize any earlier. The UBCIC was the first provincial Aboriginal organization to represent on-reserve Indian people in BC. The Union’s organizational structure is very similar to a labour union; it is a democratic organization that takes direction from its grassroots members. In this case, chiefs, elders, community members, women, youth and spiritual leaders.
Since the federal government articulated its land claims policies in 1973, the UBCIC has consistently opposed the federal government’s "comprehensive claims" and "modern treaty-making" processes because they require that we surrender our Aboriginal Title and Rights in order to settle the land question. The UBCIC has always supported the people’s contention that land is more important than money in land claims settlements.
In 1971, the Brown Paper was introduced in response to the federal government’s 1969 White Paper. This was to be the foundation of the UBCIC’s land claims position. This was followed in 1973 by a motion from the chiefs in assembly giving Chiefs’ Council a mandate to "pursue by any means the Government of BC to become directly involved in negotiations of settlement of land claims of the Indians of BC." Initially, the approach of the chiefs focused on one large land claim for all of BC. A submission based on this idea was made to the federal government in 1971.
Adequate funding for the UBCIC’s activities has always been a challenge. In 1975, as a rejection of government-imposed and controlled programs, the members of the Union voted to refuse all government funding. This not only included UBCIC operational funds, but also band, education, welfare, land claims research and core funds of member communities. While the experiment was successful in illustrating the extent to which the government had control over communities through the flow of dollars, it also clearly demonstrated that overcoming this destructive dependency was a necessary pre-requisite to the attainment of self-government. The unity around the initial decision to reject the funding quickly evaporated, and the UBCIC’s resources contracted in size significantly.
During this same period, the UBCIC strengthened its ties with the national organization, the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB, now known as the Assembly of First Nations, or AFN).When George Manuel, who was also founder and leader of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples and the Centre for World Indigenous Studies, resigned from the NIB, he was approached to take over and rebuild the UBCIC. He accepted the challenge, and led a rejuvenated organization into its greatest period of prosperity. One of his first concerns was to explore what Indian people in BC wanted, and what they understood their Aboriginal rights to be. This dialogue turned into the Aboriginal Rights Position Paper.
Under the leadership of George Manuel, the UBCIC perfected what have remained three of its most important functions - the promotion of Indian values, information-sharing and the training, or capacity-building, of people from BC’s Indian communities. Over the years, the UBCIC has been involved in all important issues affecting Aboriginal people. Some of the more high-profile actions include the 1980 Indian Child Caravan, which started in Spallumcheen and drew attention to the removal of children from Indian homes to non-Indian foster homes, and the 1981 women’s occupation, when a group of women took over and occupied the BC Regional office for three weeks to protest against the actions of regional Department of Indian Affairs leadership. The 1981 Constitution Expresses to Ottawa and Europe, which protested the patriation of the Canadian Constitution without Indian involvement or consent, contributed to the ultimate inclusion of a clause protecting Aboriginal rights in the Constitution (Section 35).
The constitution actions had left the organization with a serious deficit at the same time that concerted efforts were begun to undermine the Union’s voice and activities, largely through the choking of its resources. George Manuel had become ill during the Constitution Express to Ottawa, and had been succeeded in 1981 by his oldest son Robert (Bob) Manuel. Bob managed to significantly reduce this debt, and it was completely eliminated within two years. But the carving away of UBCIC resources continued unabated, much of it being redirected to new tribal councils and organizations.
In 1983, Saul Terry, Chief of the Bridge River Indian Government in the Stl’Atl’Imx Nation, was elected president of the UBCIC and has served in that capacity for the last 15 years. Under his leadership, the Union developed a Comprehensive Framework Treaty proposal and entered into the Joint Policy Council, a forum for dealing with the province of BC on issues of mutual interest. Saul Terry was also instrumental in the development of the map of the Sovereign Indigenous Nations, and he oversaw the creation of the Institute of Indigenous Government, an accredited and degree-granting post-secondary institution dedicated to the training of future Indian leaders. In 1998, Chief Saul Terry decided not to run for President and at our Annual General Assembly Chief Stewart Phillip was elected.
Throughout it’s different leaders, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs has remained consistent and uncompromising on its position on Aboriginal Title and Rights. The Union has shared important information through the production of publications, such as NESIKA, UBCIC News, Indian World, the UBCIC Newsletter and information bulletins. It has also stayed true to its mandate to train people and foster fundamental research skills, through the holding of conferences and workshops on a variety of issues. This is true today with the UBCIC Resource Centre and the UBCIC Research Department serving the needs of BC Bands.
The UBCIC is probably best known for its uncompromising stand on the issue of Aboriginal Title and Rights. This is based on the moral and legal arguments (which have been upheld in courts of law) that Indian or Aboriginal Title predates crown title, and that the Imperial, federal and provincial governments were legally obliged to make arrangements, or treaties, with BC’s original inhabitants before alienating any land for settlement or other purposes. This never happened in most of what is now called British Columbia. We consider ourselves sovereign Indigenous Nations. The UBCIC’s position on Aboriginal Title was set out in its 1976 Declaration of Aboriginal Peoples and the 1980 Aboriginal Title and Rights Position Paper. The UBCIC remains dedicated to the recognition and implementation of our Aboriginal Title. Check out our recent publications, Certainty: Canada’s Struggle to extinguish Aboriginal Title and Aboriginal Title: Implementation.
The UBCIC has also been active in the struggle to improve conditions on reserves, and on issues such as hunting and fishing rights. Two major initiatives that attracted both national and international attention were the Indian Child Caravan, which originated in Spallumcheen and the Constitutional Express, which led to the addition of Section 35 in the Canadian Constitution which protects Aboriginal Rights. Another significant accomplishment was the creation of the Institute of Indigenous Government, an accredited, degree-granting post-secondary institution dedicated to the decolonization process and the training of future Indian leaders.
The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs is more than just an organization. It is part of our people’s spirit. The fortunes and resources of the UBCIC may have gone up and down over time, but the hearts of the people have never changed. As long as our people remain committed to protecting their Aboriginal Title, and as long as the Indian Land Question remains unsettled, the UBCIC will have an on-going role to play.