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WET 219 - Applied Water Law - Indigenous Rights

Unceded Lands

In British Columbia (B.C.), most of us live on what is referred to as "unceded lands or territory." 

  • Ninety-five percent of B.C. is unceded traditional First Nations territory.
  • Unceded means that First Nations people never ceded or legally signed away their lands to the Crown or Canada;
    • Traditional Territory refers to the geographic area identified by a First Nation as the land their ancestors lived on since time immemorial (or were forced into by the encroachment of Settlers). 
    • Much of Canada remains unceded territory (see map below). 
      • The maritime, large portions of eastern Ontario and Quebec, which includes the Ottawa, were never relinquished by the Indigenous people to European settlers.
      • Even territories covered in treaties with First nations, such treaties did not necessarily cede such lands to the Crown or the Government of Canada. In many cases, the intent of the treaties was for the sharing of the territory, not the relinquishing of rights to such territory.
      • Today in B.C. (and in other Canadian political jurisdictions) are starting to admit that the lands that settlers occupy were never ceded to them. This can be seen by an acknowledgement of this fact at the opening meetings, gatherings, and public events.  For example,  "Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge that we are meeting today on the traditional territory of the Syilx people (or Nation). We thank them for allowing us to meet and learn together on their territory."
  • Finally, the Canadian Constitution is clear on the fact that Indigenous land rights exist. However, what is lacking is clear agreement on what exactly these rights are. As a result, the Canadian judiciary has been asked to provide interruption of such rights. 


Map of Canada that Identifies Treaty Territories

Kory, Wilson. (2017). Pulling Together: A guide for Indigenization of post-secondary institutions. A professional learning series.



Recommended Reading to Learn More

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