convergences Screen 42 | Property Rights

JAMES COOK:
         I have nowhere met with Indians
with more high notions
        of the country and the produce
    being their exclusive property.
The very wood and water we took on board
    they at first wanted us to pay for.
        But as I
             never happened to be there
the workmen took but little notice
             of their importunities,
        and at last they ceased applying,
    making a merit of necessity
             and telling us afterwards
they had given us the wood and water
                      out of friendship.
JOHN LEDYARD:
When a party was sent
         to procure grass for our cattle
they would not suffer them to take
    a blade of it without payment.
             Nor had we a mast or a yard
         without an acknowledgement.
    They intimated to us that the country
all around further than we could see
                               was theirs.
Senator Pat Carney & Chief Mike Maquinna. Yuquot, 2002

Senator Pat Carney & Chief Mike Maquinna. Yuquot, 2002.

This is a legal matter, the dubious legality of sovereignty and title. A piece of coastline, its complication of sea and tidal-zone and foreshore and forest, and the abundance of its produce, is Mooachaht property. This goes without saying, though the Mooachahts say it anyway, lest there be any ambiguity. It is on record: the reasons and the testimony and the response. The claim is there in writing from these first instances of contact.

The Mooachahts still live on this coast, and the Muchalahts and the Ehatisahts and the Nuchatlahts and the Kyuquahts and the Ahousahts and the Ahts, people who perpetuate the genes and a few of the memories and customs of those we are considering here. But the land, more polluted, less productive, though in many ways the same, is no longer their land. They live on the fringes, licking Canadian stamps for their occasional letters, greeting Canadian Senators and other honoured guests who show up at their annual festivities. What has happened? There have been no wars of conquest, no treaties; only waves of people coming and staying and occupying this space and taking control. It has been happening for two hundred years, the people arriving and staying and turning into this, the context of my life.

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