By the time the colony of Vancouver Island was established in 1849, British administrators had developed a colonial policy that recognized Indigenous possession of the land. In 1850, the Hudson’s Bay Company – which was responsible for the British settlement of Vancouver Island as part of its trading license agreement with the Crown – began purchasing lands for colonial settlement and industry from First Nations on Vancouver Island.
Between 1850 and 1854, James Douglas, as chief factor of Fort Victoria and governor of the colony, entered into a series of treaties with some of the Indigenous people of southern Vancouver Island and in the vicinity of Port Hardy. These treaties were negotiated and agreed to through oral discussions and only put in written form afterwards. Under the Douglas Treaties, the Indigenous people around Victoria, the Saanich Peninsula, what is now Nanaimo, and Port Hardy agreed to share part of their territories to allow settlement. In exchange, James Douglas provided a small number of material goods (mostly cash, clothing, and blankets). He committed that the signatories and their descendants would retain their village sites and fields for their continued use and would have the “liberty to hunt over unoccupied lands” and the right to “carry on their fisheries as formerly.”
At the time that the Douglas Treaties were made, James Douglas had the leaders sign blank papers and had the text of the treaties written in afterwards (except in the case of the Saalequun Treaty, which was left blank). The language written in by James Douglas after the fact suggests that the signatories sold their land to the Crown completely and forever. While the Indigenous people have disputed this language, the courts have continued to describe the Douglas Treaties as surrendering part of the territories of the signatories.
For many years the federal and provincial governments denied that the Douglas Treaties promised treaty rights. However, since the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in White and Bob (1965), the courts and governments have begun to recognize that the Douglas Treaties committed treaty rights to the signatories and their descendants. The Te’mexw Treaty Association’s late Chief of Negotiations, Wilson Bob, supported the plaintiffs in the case. These rights are now constitutionally protected by Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
The TTA is committed to protecting the Douglas Treaties throughout our negotiations.
List of Tribe Names
James Douglas recorded 14 treaties made with the following tribes: Teechamitsa, Kosampson, Whyomilth, Swengwhung, Chilcowitch, Che-ko-nein, Ka-ky-aakan, Chewhaytsum, T’Sou-ke, Saanich (South), Saanich (North), Saalequun, Queackar, and Quakiolth. Many of the descendants of signatories of these tribes are now members of the TTA’s member Nations and continue to proudly assert and exercise their Douglas Treaty rights.