First Nation claims feds ‘ignoring their history’

  • Jul. 9, 2010 2:00 p.m.

By Heather Ramsay-News of a new Haida pole being commissioned for Jasper National Park has brought an Interior nation’s title concerns to the forefront. “It’s not so much the Haida pole being built,” said Simpcw Chief Keith Matthew in an interview with the Observer, “We’re concerned about the fact that the federal government is ignoring our history in the park and they are commissioning something from another nation.” Mr. Matthew said something more representative of the Secwepemc people (the Simpcw are a division of this Interior nation, also known as the Shuswap people) would be more appropriate. “Our fight is not against the Haida people but with the federal government that refuses to recognize the history of our people,” he said. The Secwepemc have never signed a treaty, but have been told that their title was extinguished when the national park was created in 1907. They claim territory from the drainage of the North Thompson River upstream from McLure to the headwaters of Fraser River from McBride to Tete Jaune Cache, over to Jasper and south to the headwaters of the Athabasca River. “You can’t unilaterally extinguish aboriginal title,” he said of the federal government’s claim. “We say, respectfully, no you haven’t.” Mr. Matthew said a winter pit home interpretive site would be an expression of his people’s cultural history. “We want to be acknowledged,” he said. Haida president Guujaaw said he tried to meet with Chief Matthew over the weekend in Vancouver, but they weren’t able to connect. He did talk with another man from a different nation, whose family once lived in the park, named Rick Ouellet. According to a story in a Jasper newspaper, the Fitzhugh, there are 24 indigenous groups who claim Jasper National Park as their traditional home. Some on the Alberta side have signed treaties, others do not. Guujaaw says he understands the Simpcw’s concern, but said the totem pole is an art commission, not an expression of Haida sovereignty. “There are poles all around the world. It is different than one of our chiefs putting up a pole,” he said. Guujaaw says the pole is set to be raised next summer and, by then, he hopes to initiate contact with all the people who have a claim there. If they really don’t want it, he said, that will be respected. “It is understandable, they were locked out for 100 years,” he says of the way indigenous people were forcibly removed from the area once the park was created. Meanwhile brothers Jaalen and Gwaai Edenshaw are in New Town near Masset working on the pole that is headed for Jasper. Gwaai says they are half way through carving the 43 foot pole. When completed, the pole will tell the story of two Haida brothers who set out to explore the world and travelled inland to the Rockies. They travelled three more days beyond, says Gwaai and one man decided he liked the place they had found and stayed, while the other went back home to Haida Gwaii. Years later the man who left went inland again to look for his brother. He retraced his steps and came to a house in the same place he’d last seen his sibling. The man called out “Na gwa nang is” (Is anybody there?) and a female voice replied in Haida, “Yes come on in.” It was his niece, but the brother had already passed on. “The story is about a connection to the area,” said Gwaai. Other figures on the pole represent the Jasper region: at the bottom is a Grizzly Bear, then a Mountain Goat. “The Raven represents the Haida, but also the spirit of curiosity,” said Gwaai. Other smaller figures found in each of the main figure’s bellies, are from the bottom up, a dragon fly, the brother that stayed, then the niece and at the very top of the pole is the brother that went home, carved like a watchman.