Re: First Nation talks casino, Dec. 4 letters.
The South Surrey casino issue and the Semiahmoo First Nation discussion for their own tourist center (Semiahmoo ‘prime location’ for casino; Band ‘always open to casino,’ Nov. 20) have focused questions about the band’s legitimacy and intentions.
In regards to aboriginal rights, Jack Brown and his paper, The Semiahmoo People, clearly shows the Semiahmoo are a distinct people who belong to a group of nations known collectively as Straits Salish.
Their chief characteristic was a migratory way of life, centered on salmon. The Semiahmoo traveled every summer to camps on Point Roberts, setting up reef nets to catch sockeye. They also intermarried with another tribe, the Snokomish, who inhabited the Boundary Bay area.
By the mid-19th century, both peoples suffered population loss from disease and inter-tribal conflict. They amalgamated, and, when the international boundary line was drawn up, most Semiahmoo were included in Canada, and Snokomish territory became Semiahmoo.
While 1876 Treaty 6 signatories on the Prairies were entitled to 640 acres of land per family of five, the Semiahmoo were given 392 acres total by the B.C. provincial government, which was soon whittled down to 319 due to railroad, highway, and park expansions.
The Semiahmoo retain the right to act as a nation, in political, cultural, and economic terms, which are aboriginal rights underscored by first occupation of the land and guaranteed by Section 35 of the Constitution.
While Semiahmoo activism may be unsettling to some, aboriginals and non-aboriginals should look at how they can co-operate in business and environmental protection.
Bob Burgel, Surrey