Many members of the Simpcw First Nation are pleased with the recent commemoration of their people’s forced removal from Tête Jaune Cache in 1916, but there may be more social justice coming.
The Simpcw’s first application for a formal return to Tête Jaune Cache in the form of a specific claim for a reserve came over 10 years ago.
In 2002, the Simpcw First Nation submitted a specific claim alleging loss of reserve land at Tête Jaune Cache, according to the government’s department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. In 2009, the claim was found not to disclose an outstanding lawful obligation on the part of the Government of Canada and was not accepted for negotiation, the department says.
“We’ve since come up with more information and evidence,” says Simpcw Chief Nathan Matthew. “We’re considering either re-applying or going to court.”
While they were unsuccessful in their first attempt for recognition, Chief Matthew says the band is compiling evidence of its people’s history, and they will soon present it to the federal government in the form of a specific claim for a reserve, through the federal government’s claim process.
“We’ve since come up with more information and evidence. We’re considering either re-applying or going to court.”
Simpcw Chief Nathan Matthew
They do so in the hopes of having land returned to them, Chief Matthew says, land originally set aside and sketched for a reserve in 1905.
The main reason for the federal government rejecting the Simpcw’s first claim was that they didn’t believe the Simpcw people lived at Tête Jaune full-time, according to Chief Matthew.
In an email to The Goat, the federal government acknowledges that in the early 1900s, the Simpcw, and other First Nations, maintained an on-going presence and had year-round use, but occupied what the government calls “a seasonal village site” in the area of Tête Jaune.
Between 1910 and 1912, in preparing for the construction of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway through the Yellowhead Pass, the Indigenous people residing at Tête Jaune Cache were asked to return to their respective reserves, the government says. In the case of the Simpcw people, that meant a return to the North Thompson Indian Reserve 1 (also known as Chu Chua), according to the government.
But the Simpcw say the people living in Tete Jaune considered that their home.
Although the Simpcw people have been gathering information and evidence, Chief Matthew says there are still gaps in the evidence they are looking to fill.
“We know the evidence exists, and we’re pursuing those leads,” he says. “We’ll review the details, maybe get some legal council, and see where it goes.”
The Simpcw, according to Chief Matthew, are unsure — at this point — of what land near Tête Jaune would be designated as the reserve, saying a review of which lands are most accessible would be needed.
Only time will tell if and when the government ever gives reserve designation to the Simpcw at Tête Jaune, but Chief Matthew says the area is part of the Simpcw people’s traditional territory, and they had a community there.
“It’s very clear in our minds,” he says. “We would like to have that recognition.”
Once the area is designated, Chief Matthew says his people may not even live on the land, saying it can just be designated, and over time band members could relocate if they felt inclined.
But the Simpcw isn’t the only band with interest in the area, as the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation from Prince George has included the Tête Jaune area, and the whole Robson Valley, in their treaty map.
“At this point in time, we have no comment regarding the allegation of the North Thomson Band claiming territory in Lheidli T’enneh Traditional Territories, whereas the geographic Traditional area of Lheidli T’enneh has not and will not change,” says Lheidli T’enneh Chief, Dominic Frederick.
Chief Matthew says the Simpcw will continue their other efforts to have their land rights recognized.
The Federal Government has been hands-off until now, according to Chief Matthew, saying the land dispute is a First Nation-to-First Nation issue, but since… the federal government has contacted the Simpcw First Nation and is having discussions on land title and rights in the area, relative to the treaty process.
In addition to the Simpcw First Nation, the Government of Canada says Tête Jaune Cache is part of the traditional territories of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, Secwepemcw Nation (member bands include: Adams Lake, Bonaparte, Little Shuswap, Neskonlith, Shuswap, Simpcw, Skeetchestn, Splatsin,Tk’emlups and Whispering Pines/Clinton), the Stoney Indian Band, and the Lhtako Dene Nation.