Since time immemorial, we have had a relationship with our land and its natural resources.
In 1763, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation stating Indians could not be molested or disturbed in the possession of their land. Thus, the Crown requires Treaties.
But we have been fighting to have our rights recognized since the 1800s. Chief William’s statement in 1879 said “The white men have taken all the land and all the fish. A vast country was ours. It is all gone.”
Unfortunately, the Europeans also brought deadly diseases - measles, influenza, smallpox - to which we had no immunities. After contact, almost all our people died from these diseases.
Chief William's Statement - 1879
I am an Indian Chief and my people are threatened by starvation. The white men have taken all the land and all the fish. A vast country was ours. It is all gone. The noise of the threshing machine and the wagon has frightened the deer and the beaver. We have nothing to eat. My people are sick. My young men are angry. All the Indians from Canoe Creek to the headwaters of the Fraser Say:
“William is an old woman”
I am old and feeble and my authority diminishes every day. I am sorely puzzled. I do not know what I say next week when the chiefs are assembled in a council. A war with the white man will end in our destruction, but death in war is not so bad as death by starvation.
The land on which my people lived for five hundred years was taken by a white man. He has crops of wheat and herds of cattle. We have nothing, not an acre. Another white man has enclosed the graves in which the bones of our fathers rest and we may live to see their bodies turned over by his plough. Any white man can take three hundred and twenty acres of our land and the Indians cannot touch an acre.
Her majesty sent me a coat, two ploughs and some turnip seed. The coat will not keep away the hunger, the ploughs are idle and the seed is useless because we have no land.
All our people are willing to work because they know they must work like the white man or die. They work for the white man. Mr. Haines was a good friend. He would not have a white man if he could get an Indian. My young men can plough and mow and cut corn with a cradle.
Now, what I want to say is this: THERE WILL BE TROUBLE, soon.
The whites have taken all the salmon and all the land, and my people will not starve in peace. Good friends to the Indian say that Her Majesty
loves her Indians subjects and will do justice.
Justice is no use for a dead Indian.
They say: “Mr. Sproat is coming to give you land.”
We hear he is a very good man but he has no horse. He was at Hope last June and he has not arrived here. Her Majesty ought to give him a horse and let justice come fast to the starving Indians. Land, land, a little of our own land, that is all we ask from her Majesty. If we had the deer and the salmon we could live by hunting and fishing.
We have nothing now and here comes the cold and the snow. We can make fires to make people warm - that is what we can do. Wood will burn.
We are not stones.
- Chief William of the Williams Lake Indian Band, 1879