I’m writing to respond to the opinion letter “We must reaffirm we are a nation of equals” by Michael Smith.
I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Smith’s opening statement that all humans are created equal and that we must all support the concept of equality. However, as Mr. Justice Cardozo stated, there is no greater inequality than to treat unequal’s as equal.
Mr. Smith misses the point with respect to the origins of the land rights of First Nations people. This concept is a legal issue with its foundations in early British law and international law. This has been reconfirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in the recent Williams decision. It is also been reconfirmed by the human rights system of the Americas. The Supreme Court has confirmed that the British crown had very limited rights with respect to land until they dealt with the issue of aboriginal title. The fact that colonial and postcolonial governments have refused to recognize this basic rule of law and principal of equality and fairness and justice has led us to this unfortunate position.
As was stated in the British Columbia legislature during the late 1800s, if this issue is not dealt with, it will only become more expensive to deal with in the future. It would be well for individuals such as Mr. Smith to encourage the British Columbia and Canadian governments to fairly and effectively deal with this issue, since as the former Chief Justice stated in Delgamuukw: “we are all here to stay.”
This issue only becomes an issue of racism when legitimate legal rights are denied due to race. The legitimate right to the ownership of land by First Nations peoples has been denied on this basis for too many years, and there must be a change of attitude that reflects the concept of equality and justice and fairness for all, including the legitimate land rights of First Nations people.
Cowichan Tribes member and Lawyer