What does it mean to be “extinct” for Sinixt?1for a longer discussion see Geiger https://sinixtnation.org/files/Affidavit_James.pdf

Sinixt “extinction” is nuanced. It is not the Sinixt Peoples who were deemed “extinct”, but rather the Arrow Lakes Band. The Arrow Lakes Band was the only Sinixt (Lakes) collective recognized by the government of Canada. Unlike all neighbouring Indigenous Nations (Syilx, Ktunaxa, Secwe̓pemc) who have several Bands and reserves, Sinixt only ever had one Band and one small reserve.2Report of the Royal Commission on Indian Affairs in British Columbia [McKenna-McBride Commission of 1916] http://gsdl.ubcic.bc.ca/cgi-bin/library.cgi?e=q-00000-00—off-0finalr10–00-0—-0-10-0—0—0direct-10—4——-0-1l–11-en-50—20-about-Lakes+Indian+Band–00-0-1-00-0–4—-0-0-11-10-0utfZz-8-00&a=d&c=finalr10&srp=0&srn=0&cl=search&d=HASHb4cbf2abcc2e58d21361ba.14 Also, unlike other groups, there was no existing community near Oatscott, BC where the Arrow Lakes reserve was created. The lack of an existing community and relationship to that small reserve was a critical factor in the lack of viability of the Arrow Lakes Band.

There are multiple reasons why the reserve was not successful. Most significantly is that it was terrible land that couldn’t support even a small population, and there was no existing community there. Instead, Sinixt people from several locations were gathered together under the name of the Arrow Lakes Band. These people were not a community, but rather a collection of less than 30 individuals. Because the land was rocky, unsuitable for agriculture, insufficient for foraging and inaccessible for many months of the year, members of the Arrow Lakes Band gradually moved off reserve.

The Arrow Lakes reserve wasn’t established until 1902, which was very late in a place that was already being overrun with settlers in search of mining, forestry and agricultural opportunities. Most Sinixt people fled their təmxʷúlaʔxʷ for their own safety and moved to reserves of other Nations in Canada, or to join relatives on the Colville Reserve in Washington state.

When the last registered member of the Arrow Lakes Band, Annie Joseph, died in 1953, an Order in Council declared that the Arrow Lakes Band of Indians was “extinct for purposes of the Indian Act”. Under the Mckenna-McBride Commission of 1916, the reserved land reverted to the Province of BC.3Report of the Royal Commission on Indian Affairs in British Columbia [McKenna-McBride Commission of 1916]http://gsdl.ubcic.bc.ca/cgi-bin/library.cgi?e=q-00000-00—off-0generalr–00-0—-0-10-0—0—0direct-10—4——-0-1l–11-en-50—20-about-extinct–00-0-1-00-0–4—-0-0-11-10-0utfZz-8-00&a=d&c=generalr&srp=0&srn=0&cl=search&d=HASH5f98b13fef71d7a70dd56f.1 page 11

Letter from Ronald A Irwin

In 1995, a settler supporter of Autonomous Sinixt in Canada wrote a letter to then Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Ronald A. Irwin, asking for clarification of Sinixt extinction. His response clarified that “The Arrow Lakes Band ceased to exist as a band for purpose of the Indian Act”. “It does not, of course, mean that the Sinixt people ceased to exist as a tribal group.”4Letter from Ronald A Irwin. to Jacqueline Heywood 1995 http://gsdl.ubcic.bc.ca/cgi-bin/library.cgi?e=q-00000-00—off-0generalr–00-0—-0-10-0—0—0direct-10—4——-0-1l–11-en-50—20-about-extinct–00-0-1-00-0–4—-0-0-11-10-0utfZz-8-00&a=d&c=generalr&srp=0&srn=0&cl=search&d=HASH5f98b13fef71d7a70dd56f.1

The Desautel hunting rights case and “extinction”

While it was widely reported that the Desautel hunting rights case “overturned Sinixt extinction” or that the “courts ruled that Sinixt are no longer extinct”, this is sadly not the case. The Desautel hunting rights case did not reverse the extinction of the Arrow Lakes Band; the question of Sinixt extinction was not before the courts. The questions before the court in Desautel were specifically about the rights of an Aboriginal Person residing in the US to hunt without a licence in BC, and as a non-resident of BC. This case was similar in many respects to Sparrow, where the question revolved on using provincial regulations to limit Aboriginal Rights. Sparrow and Desautel were both about Aboriginal Rights, not land rights. In other words, the right to use the land to exercise Sec 35(1) Constitutional Rights, but not the right to the land itself.

Much time was spent at the Supreme Court of Canada arguing about what it meant to be an Aboriginal person of Canada. The position of Canada and BC was that Sinixt were not, rather they are “aliens to the Constitution Act of Canada”. The Supreme Court did not agree. As a result of this case, people who are enrolled as Lakes in the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington State have a Constitutionally-protected right to hunt as a non-resident without a licence in BC. This is a very, very long way from re-establishing a Band for purposes of the Indian Act. Sinixt are still extinct in the same way they were before this case, although it is a toe in the door to recognition. No rights to the land itself were affirmed , only rights to use the land. The case was also important for the Aboriginal rights of all other Indigenous Peoples crossed by the Canada-US border.

sign reads"Hi you are on unceded sinixt land"

Why is it important to be a Band under the Indian Act?

Some people think it is better not to be under the Indian Act. While it is a terrible piece of assimilationist policy that strips Indigenous Peoples of their autonomy, many rights as Indigenous Peoples and more importantly resources, are recognized through the colonially-imposed Band Council system. While the Indian Act inspired apartheid policy in South Africa (which was removed in 1999), and is racist legislation, it is much more challenging to be Indigenous without Band status under the Indian Act.

There are processes by which Indigenous groups can apply for Band status under the Indian Act. However, this takes many years, much money, and few are successful. The government of Canada has the exclusive power to recognize and create Bands and they are reluctant to do so. One of the biggest impediments to recognition is money. The vast majority of Canada’s fiscal obligations to Indigenous Peoples of Canada is through the Band Council system. Thus, it is not in Canada’s interests to take on more financial responsibility where there currently is none. Sinixt did apply for Band recognition, but the government of Canada stated that there was “insufficient evidence” to proceed with their application. It is the exclusive jurisdiction of Canada to determine sufficient evidence as well.

If you are not a Band under the Indian Act, you are ineligible for many government and even many non-governmental sources of funding. In fact, Autonomous Sinixt were required to get a Band council to support the repatriation of their ancestors’ remains to the Vallican site in the 1990’s. Because they had no recognized Band, they had to make arrangements with an Okanagan Band to receive them, who then turned the bones over to Sinixt matriarchs for the reburials of Sinixt ancestors stored in the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. It is believed that Sinixt were one of the first groups to repatriate human remains in Canada.

The vast majority of funding to Indigenous Peoples is through Band Councils. Thus, Band Councils equate to access to resources. It is important to note that the majority of Indigenous Peoples in Canada do not belong to Bands. Furthermore, to have “government-to-government relations”, Indigenous Peoples must have a recognized Band Council. If you don’t, then you are not required to be consulted on what happens in your traditional territory. In the case of Sinixt, this will mean consulting with neighbouring groups while excluding Sinixt entirely. This is what happened with the Columbia River Treaty Review, there was no seat at the Indigenous consultation tables in Canada, because they have no recognized government.

The same is happening with the Zincton resort proposal, although Zincton is consulting with the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington they have repeatedly refused to engage with Autonomous Sinixt in Canada as part of their First Nations “engagement”. As a result, other groups make decisions about what happens to Sinixt territory in what is now known as Canada. Sinixt are also not required to be consulted on archaeological permits in their territory either, so Sinixt graves and village sites can be excavated without their participation and their ancestors’ remains removed to other Nations’ repositories. However, some archaeologists do consult with Autonomous Sinixt in BC. Not everyone agrees with perpetuating Sinixt extinction and exclusion. Most often changes happens at the local, grassroots level, forcing other higher levels of government to change as well.

Indigenous Peoples, Aboriginal, First Nations, or Indians?

Before delving into the complex history of how colonialism impacted Sinixt, it is important to define some terms. Although Indigenous Peoples, Aboriginal, First Nations, or Indians are often used interchangeably—even by some Indigenous Peoples—they do have different meanings and when used improperly can hinder relationship building and understanding. There are many guides out there, but not all make clear distinctions between these descriptors. As the list progresses, it applies to fewer and fewer people.

Generally, Indigenous Peoples is the most inclusive and least contested term. Note that both words are capitalized, as you would with any other name. It is also plural to indicate that there are many different Indigenous Peoples. There was much debate when drafting The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on this point and this is what was agreed upon, so follow their lead.

Aboriginal is most appropriate when talking about federal policy, as in Aboriginal Rights. Not all Indigenous Peoples have Aboriginal Rights, so the term is less inclusive. For Sinixt, it is still unclear as to what Aboriginal Rights they possess and the courts are deciding on a case-by-case basis, as with the Aboriginal Right to hunt of Richard Desautel of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington. Another aspect of Aboriginal that people find problematic is what the prefix “ab” means (“away”, “from”, or “not” as in “abnormal”), particularly when placed in front of “original”.

First Nation often refers to the Band Council system. When colonial governments talk about First Nations, it usually means Band Councils. While the concept should include the hereditary system as well, in terms of “First Nations consultation” with federal and provincial governments this means Band Councils, and most often excludes traditional systems (e.g., Hereditary Chiefs or Smum iem matriarchs). Metis and Inuit are in a separate category from First Nations (i.e., Indigenous Peoples of Canada includes First Nations, Metis, and Inuit).

Indian has a specific meaning in federal Aboriginal policy. To be “Indian” is to have status (as an Indian) under the Indian Act. The goal of the Indian Act was enfranchisement, meaning loss of “special status” as an “Indian of Canada under the Indian Act” and full assimilation into Canadian society. Less than ½ of all Indigenous Peoples in Canada have status. The vast majority of people who belong to a Band have status, but not all, and not all status Indians belong to Bands.

After decades of trying a Sinixt man was able to gain status under the Indian Act, despite the “extinction” of the Arrow Lakes Band. However, there is no Band listed on this status card. He is what would be considered a “Landless” and “Bandless Indian” under the Indian Act. As most benefits of being a status Indian are tied to Band councils, it is unclear to what extent his rights as a status Indian can be exercised without a Band council to administer those rights and benefits.5These are actual designations under the Indian Act.

Indian”, without the modifier of “status” (i.e., Indian status), should not be used by settlers, nor should settlers correct Indigenous Peoples for calling themselves or other Indigenous Peoples “Indians”. This is why quotation marks are used here, to indicate that it is a problematic term. It is not the place of settlers to argue with Indigenous Peoples about what they call themselves. 

Another important point to note is the avoidance of possessive language when referring to Indigenous Peoples (or any other of the above terms). This means not using words like “ours”, or “Canada’s”, Indigenous Peoples. Rather, it should be: “Indigenous Peoples in what is now known as Canada”, or “Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island”. Even saying “Indigenous Peoples of Canada” is problematic because this too is possessive. 

A concrete example of how the preciseness of terminology matters, is the Desautel hunting rights case. Much of the argument at the Supreme Court of Canada revolved around what it means to be an “Aboriginal6Note the policy category of “Aboriginal” used here. people of Canada”. Does Canada have an obligation to respect the Aboriginal rights of Sinixt not residing in (of) Canada? The government argued that they did not, because Sinixt in Washington State are “aliens” to the Constitution Act of Canada, which guarantees Aboriginal Rights. If Desautel was not “of Canada”, then he had no rights in Canada to exercise. Again, it is important to use precise and clear language.    

For a more comprehensive discussion of terms and language, see the UBC Indigenous Peoples: Language Guidelines (2021).7https://assets.brand.ubc.ca/downloads/ubc_indigenous_peoples_language_guide.pdf