Cowichan petition

BCA F/52/c83

Believed to be the first formal document to make the legal argument for Aboriginal rights and title with a clear statement written in legal formality and thesis, the Cowichan Petition was written by lawyers Clark and O’Mearra in 1909 under the direction of Cowichan Elders. Before then, people writing on behalf of indigenous people were mainly missionaries and settler representatives.

The document – sent to the British Colonial Office, the BC Government and Ottawa – influenced and even inspired the Nisga’a Petition of 1913, which eventually led to the 1973 Calder Supreme Court decision. That decision is generally thought to be the dawn of the modern era of indigenous activism on rights and title in Canada, and the document a taproot for the Aboriginal-related Court decisions of the late 20th century.

Hamar Foster wrote, “At no time before the 1960s did aboriginal people come closer to having the land question adjudicated by the courts than they did in the two years between the presentation of the Cowichan Petition in the Spring of 1909 and the Dominion Election of 1911.” Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier had planned to address the issues, and even take BC to court, but was defeated in the election.

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