The Katzie Treaty Team
website will inform and educate its members and the general public on
its vital and historic treaty negotiations with Canada and British
10946 Katzie Road,
Part IV: The
Nature of Katzie Title and Rights
Throughout the research for this
article and in repeated instances during interviews with Katzie elders, it became obvious that
"ownership" and the responsibility to share abundance are inseparable. In some instances, an extended family may
"own" a resource-use site, such as a duck-net site on the marshy flats east of the Pitt River around Widgeon Creek, or one of the great wapato marshes throughout what is now the
"Pitt Polder." In other cases, a resource- use site may be owned
by the entire Katzie community. Regardless, a right of ownership always implies the responsibility to share abundant
resources; "Permission" is asked by non-Katzie people, but
"permission" is expected to be granted. This balance is crucial to any understanding of Katzie’s assertion of title to its territory.
In some cases, it is obvious that the custom was, and continues to be, that neighbors should be specifically invited to share in abundance. As Peter Pierre’s account shows, Swaneset not only invited neighboring communities to come to Katzie to catch the first Oolichan, he traveled around the country
"inviting more distant people to come and share their good fortune." To this day, Katzie elders express tremendous remorse when declines in Oolichan populations, which have been quite severe through the 1990’s, prevent them from continuing their traditions of sharing Oolichan harvests with upriver people and with people from as far away as Mount Currie.
As Simon Pierre informed Wayne Suttles in 1952, outsiders could come to fish for sturgeon in Pitt Lake, but
"were expected to call the Village at the outlet of the lake and ask permission first." Similarly, Simon Pierre noted that even the smallest streams within the Katzie territory were each
"owned," according to Katzie customary law, by "several Katzie families," and an outsider
"could not fish anywhere on them without first receiving permission."
The same law applied even in the case of resources as conclusively and solemnly entrusted to the Katzie people, by Khaals, as the Alouette River.
While Khaals had admonished the
"stone person" at Davis pool - "henceforward you shall be lord of all the fish that ascend this river. To strangers you shall grant none, but you shall know the Katzie Indians who occupy this territory and grant them fish in
abundance" - Simon Pierre was clear about the law governing the operation of fish weirs on the Alouette:
“When the family that erected the weir had caught enough, they remove some of the sections to allow the fish to pass freely up-stream to spawn. But if other people came and asked permission to catch fish there, the owners tied the sections back on for them.”
Whether a particular resource or resource site was "owned" by the Katzie community in general or by a group of Katzie families or a single family, the requirement of outsiders that permission be requested first, before a resource may be harvested, appears to have been a universal law.
Just such a principle applied in the case of the cranberry bogs on both sides of the Pitt River. According to Simon Pierre, a cranberry bog just below the Alouette belonged to all the Katzie people; but the bogs north of Sturgeon Slough and adjacent to Widgeon Creek belonged to specific families. As Simon Pierre told Wayne Suttles, “When outsiders came, they had to get permission from the owners before they could gather the berries.”
It was Simon’s father’s responsibility, as a young boy, to guard over the cranberry bogs as harvest time approached. Wayne Suttles observed this about the Katzie view of “aboriginal title” with respect to cranberry
resources - a view that can be said to have extended, in one way or another, to all
"From Simon’s remarks it appeared that the owners of the bogs did not refuse anyone permission to pick when the berries had properly ripened, nor did they exact tribute from the outsiders.
I infer that ownership of (or perhaps one should say, identification with) a rich cranberry bog was its own reward in that it permitted the owners to play the role of hosts. A host at one time and place is potentially a guest at another. What the owners of the bog probably enjoyed was not payment in berries or cash at the time, but in hospitality later.”
Such balanced reciprocity was a cornerstone of the aboriginal economy. It explains much about the Katzie people’s relationship to their resources and the Katzie relationship with other First Nations. Katzie title should not be regarded as any less elaborate than the forms of title imposed upon Katzie resources, largely to the benefit of settlers, from the colonial period onward. A case in point is the ownership and management of ‘skous,‘
or wapato (a white potato), a nutritious tuber that was practically unique to the Katzie territory.
Some wapato ponds were hundreds of feet in length, scattered throughout the marshy areas of Katzie territory in named and owned tracts. The Katzie owned some tracts collectively; other tracts were owned and carefully managed by individual families (similar to the arrangements that prevailed in the Katzie cranberry resources). Production required great care and attention and the harvest was undertaken from canoes, or by
"dancing," wading through the shallows and treading on the plants until the roots floated to the surface. Hudson Bay Company officials,
after arriving in the early 1820’s on the Fraser River, observed hundreds of native families traveling to the Katzie territory in the autumn months to assist in the wapato harvest. Rather than being simply a casual resource-gathering activity, the wapato harvest should be regarded for what it was: agriculture. The Katzie were proud of their renowned wapato, and it was obviously a valuable
"trade commodity." It was the presence of an effective customary law governing the ownership and distribution of the wapato resource that allowed such harvests, as those described by Simon Pierre and observed by HBC officials. Directed harvests of saltwater resources by Katzie people, either through reciprocal relationships with saltwater people, or long standing rights of access, was an occasional practice. It was likely more common that neighboring First Nations transported shellfish and other saltwater resources to Katzie, as friends and relatives do to this day.
- * * * *
to Part III] [Go to TOP]