We had, and continue to have, laws and systems based on our culture and relationships with our lands and resources. We had, and continue to have, our system of self-government - hereditary institutions that determined our citizenship as well as our economic, cultural and political well-being.
It is held by the Coast Salish that the Creator made the world and all its creatures. He also made groups of people in four areas of the Lower Mainland, with mystical leaders, known as transformers, from each group. Traveling from village to village the transformers would change people, objects and animals into different forms. One transformer, known as Khaals, arrived at Boundary Bay. The legend of his encounter with the Tsawwassen people is still told today. According to the legend, Tsawwassen Bluff was once an island - a geographical fact.
Like many First Nations, after the arrival of Europeans our ancestors were devastated by epidemics of smallpox. Historians estimate that between 80 and 90 per cent of the Coast Salish were killed by the disease, decimating some Tsawwassen villages.
Over the years, as the colony of British Columbia grew and prospered, the Tsawwassen people - like other First Nations - were systematically stripped of their land, rights and resources. In 1887, Premier William Smithe said, "When the white man first came among you, you were little better than wild beasts of the field." Little wonder that this kind of racism was soon translated into narrow policies that plunged the province into a century of darkness for the Tsawwassen and other First Nations.
Simply put, our land was stolen. In 1851, the international border took Point Roberts and parts of Washington State away from the Tsawwassen people - without consultation, without compensation.
Meanwhile, Tsawwassen lands were pre-empted; settler families were given huge tracts of land.
In 1874, our reserve was expanded to 490 acres, still a postage stamp sized piece of land compared to our traditional territory. By 1890, about 40,000 acres of land surrounding us had been developed by our non-aboriginal neighbours.
The B.C. Ferry Terminal construction started in 1958. During causeway construction the B.C. government tore down our Longhouse. The terminal and causeway were expanded in 1973, in 1976 and again in 1991. The provincial government of the day did not bother to meaningfully consult with the Tsawwassen people.
Construction on the Roberts Bank Superport began in 1968. By 1983 it had become a 113-hectare island, with a B.C. Rail line running along the causeway. Operating around the clock, the facility handles 24 trains each day. Light and sound pollution - excessive noise and vibration - is a constant nuisance to the Tsawwassen people.
The B.C. Ferry Terminal and the port, massive industrial operations that include a man-made island terminal and a causeway linking them to the mainland, have virtually destroyed our beaches, creating a stagnant bay choked with invasive, non-indigenous plants and seaweed. Once a productive habitat teeming with crabs, clams and many other shellfish, the bay is today a dead body of water with nearly no tidal wash. Contaminants in the water include such aggressive plant species as Japanese eelgrass and Spartina Anglica (which competes with the indigenous eelgrass species for nutrients and sunlight). In this stagnant water, harmful algae, also known as Red Tide, often blooms.
Today, TFN is suing B.C. Ferries, B.C. Rail, the Vancouver Port Authority, the provincial government and the federal government in a move to address the devastatingly harmful impacts caused by these massive industrial operations on our territory - ecologically sensitive land and sea ecosystems. We had to take this legal action because the federal and provincial governments refused to discuss this critical matter within the context of the treaty process.
Today, TFN is pleased there is a willingness to negotiate these matters, believing that negotiated resolutions are not only possible, but the best way to build positive, mutually beneficial relationships and resolve past wrongs.
In 1995, we began construction of a new Longhouse on our reserve. Completed in 1997, the structure is used to practise and protect our culture and traditions. Activities inside include "namings," memorials, winter dancing and feasts unique to Coast Salish peoples. Prior to this, it had been almost 50 years our community had been without a Longhouse and we had to practise our culture 'underground'.
More than 126 species of birds visited Tsawwassen territory last year. Huge flocks of migrating shorebirds, raptors and waterfowl arrive each spring and fall. Thousands of ducks, geese, western sandpipers, dunlin, plovers and many other shorebird species fly south in the fall along the Pacific Flyway, from their breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra to their wintering wetlands in Central and South America, and then make the return journey in the spring. Many of these birds make journeys of over 10,000 kilometres, flying for up to 70 hours (1,000 km) at a time.
For thousands of years, we travelled and fished the waterways
of the southern Strait of Georgia and lower Fraser River,
visiting all Canadian and U.S. Gulf Islands.