The recent momentous Supreme Court of Canada decision recognizing First Nations title to a specific tract of land has been termed one of the most significant decisions the
Supreme Court has ever rendered in an aboriginal rights case.
Land title conflicts in Canada go back almost to the arrival of the first
Europeans and the Cowichan Valley was no exception.
In June 1865, the issue was brought to the boil by, of all things, settlers’ pigs which, allowed to roam freely, ravaged their Cowichan neighbours’ crops.
"The old story of the settlers’ pigs destroying the Indians’ potato crops has again come up," reported the British Colonist, "and His Excellency [Gov. A.E. Kennedy] is anxious that a difficulty which may lead to something more serious should be adjusted while there is yet time…
"But what is to be done? His Excellency prescribes fencing in the pigs. Some of the members of the House [of Assembly] say-fence in the land… All things…considered, the latter course approaches nearer what is required.
"To fence in the pigs would be virtually to put a stop to hog raising, one of the most profitable occupations of the settler in the outlying districts. It was shown clearly yesterday in the House that so long as pigs could roam over waste or unfenced land there was no great outlay to keep them; but let them be confined within a fence, and the owner would have to go to the expense and trouble of raising feed for their sustenance.
"On the other hand, it was contended that if no steps were taken to keep the hogs from molesting the potatoes, serious disturbances would arise. Well, we can neither afford to discourage the settler nor precipitate a war with the Indians. While, therefore, allowing the pigs in the outlying districts to roam about untrammelled, the Executive should see that the native crops are not interfered with…
"The House has really no business with enclosing Crown or Indian lands; yet this is what must be done if the hogs are to be kept away…"
The newspaper adamantly opposed spending public funds: "… We do not expect to witness the Executive pay fencing in of the Indian lands; but we do desire that every aid consistent with the responsibilities of human beings should be given to the native tribes. Let them be impressed with the necessity of enclosing their cultivated patches in the same manner as the white man’s. [The settlers fenced their own gardens!-TWP] Let every instruction and advice be rendered them; but let not the Government show a disposition to assume any of their duties or responsibilities. The Indian if
he is ever to do himself or the country any good, must be made self-reliant, and the sooner this policy is inaugurated the better.
"Let him be taught that it is his duty to fence in his own land, and that as [fencing] will be rather a novelty to him, the Government will grant him every aid, so far as advice or instruction goes. But on no account let him feel that he is both helpless and neglected."
William Smithe, a Somenos settler who’d go on to become premier, wrote the Colonist: "…To attempt to fence the numerous private patches, scattered as they are at present over the whole valley would be absurd."
He suggested that the Colony allocate six 100-acre plots for the Cowichans to garden as these could be fenced in-by them and at their cost, estimated at $2,000.
"Unless something of this sort be done, I think it best to adopt [a] let them alone system, or if something must be one, let someone in authority order the Indians to fence their potato patches; they stand sufficiently in awe of the powers that be to obey if they fancy those powers are serious and mean what they say."
Three weeks later, the Colonist reported that Nature had joined the fray, having learned from "a settler" that Cowichan crops were looking very well but "suffering very much from the ravages of caterpillars and grubs".