The First Nations Leadership Council, which advocates for the interests of First Nations (i.e. aboriginal) groups in BC, announced their China strategy this month. Titled First Nations-China: Transforming Relationships, the strategy's objective is to promote collaborative development between First Nations and China, particularly Chinese businesses and state-owned enterprises involved in natural resource development in Canada.
This would be relatively unremarkable given the growing commercial interest in BC’s natural resources sector from across the Pacific, but the document contains some interesting commentary on the historical relationship and cultural affinity between the Canadian aboriginal peoples and the Chinese:
The Chinese and the First Nations people have had an interesting and complex history together in British Columbia, a history that has gone largely unknown and unrecorded. The first recorded visits of Chinese to North America occurred in 1788 when boats landed at Nootka Sound; however, there is evidence of trade between First Nations and Chinese on the coast of British Columbia that pre-dates the European exchanges by hundreds of years.
Recent history also brought Chinese and First Nations together during an era of colonial repression. Chinese migrants first appeared in large numbers on Vancouver Island in 1858 at the time of the Canadian Pacific Railway development. They were treated as second class citizens by the government of that time. Many of the men inter-married with First Nations, and they lived in our communities and share a part of our modern history. […]
The Government of Canada created The Chinese Immigration Act, 1885, levying a “head tax” of $50 on any Chinese coming to Canada. When this legislation failed to deter Chinese immigration to Canada, the Government of Canada increased the tax to $100 in 1900. In 1903, the landing fee for Chinese was increased to $500 – an onerous fee, especially given that the equivalent fee today is $490. The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923, better known as the “Chinese Exclusion Act”, replaced prohibitive fees with an outright ban on Chinese immigration to Canada with the exceptions of merchants, diplomats, students, and “special circumstances” cases.
Similarly, First Nations today still live under the Indian Act of 1876, legislation that forced us to live on reserves, prevented us from hiring legal counsel, and prohibited us from voting in federal and provincial elections.
The little known fact about inter-marriage is fascinating, but it's also interesting that the document takes the opportunity to make a political point about unequal treatment. I wonder if there will be a similar strategy document on India!