For the first time since they were signed 170 years ago, the Douglas Treaties have been translated into the indigenous languages of the Sencoten and Lekwungen First Nations of Vancouver Island.
But the effort to translate them has also highlighted how differently their meanings were understood by both sides who signed them.
Between 1850 and 1854, then-governor of Vancouver Island James Douglas signed more than a dozen treaties with First Nations from Victoria to Port Hardy, exchanging about 930 square kilometres of land for cash, clothing and blankets.
The historic treaties, sometimes called the Vancouver Island Treaties, ensured that First Nations would retain their villages and fields and would be able to hunt and fish on the surrendered lands.
But Elder John Elliot, who was one of two translators who worked with researchers at the University of Victoria to produce the indigenous-language treaties that were unveiled Thursday, said that became impossible as settlements expanded beyond Fort Victoria.
“Every time there was another development on our land and in our territories … there is another loss to the connection to a fishery or a hunting location that’s ages old,” he said.
Subject to interpretation
Elliot said it’s easy to see now how First Nations interpreted the treaties as peace agreements because tensions were growing as settlers cut down forests to build their forts and settlements and a young First Nations man was killed without reason.