(Text provided from Encyclopedia of BC )

RESERVES are areas of land allocated for the exclusive use of FIRST NATIONS and held in trust for them by the federal government. Bands (nations) are the primary unit of administration under the federal Indian Act and are usually associated with one or more reserves, though some bands have no reserves. There are 198 bands in BC and 1,700 reserves amounting to 4,734.85 sq km or about .4% of the province's total land area. They range in size from less than 1 ha to more than 180 sq km. Only about one-quarter are occupied. Somewhere between 25% and 50% of the aboriginal population of BC lives on reserves. A third of the people who live on reserves are not of aboriginal ancestry and are living on land leased from the reserve.

The earliest reserves were on VANCOUVER ISLAND, created under the terms of the DOUGLAS TREATIES between 1850 and 1854, and in the southwest corner of the mainland colony. By CONFEDERATION there were 80 reserves established, a total of 115.08 sq km, mostly around villages or at food-gathering sites. Little or no consultation with the aboriginal people took place because the provincial government refused to acknowledge aboriginal title (see ABORIGINAL RIGHTS). At 5 ha per family, BC reserves were much smaller than in the rest of Canada, and the federal government requested that the province increase reserve size. The province argued that BC aboriginals did not need as much land as aboriginals elsewhere because they were mainly fishers (see FISHING, ABORIGINAL). Instead many reserves were reduced in size over the years as white settlement took precedence over aboriginal title.
In 1875 the province and the federal government created a 3-person Joint Commission for the Settlement of Indian Reserves. Members were A.C. ANDERSON, Archibald McKinley and G.M. SPROAT. The commission began by dealing with the reserves already established in southern BC and allotted or confirmed 152 reserves (874.50 sq km) in its first year. The province was a reluctant participant and in 1878 the 3-person commission was dissolved and Sproat continued as the only commissioner. He was replaced in 1880 by Peter O'REILLY, who was much less sympathetic to aboriginal demands. Most reserves (1,010) were allotted by 1900.

A Royal Commission, the MCKENNA–MCBRIDE COMMISSION, was established in 1913 to make a final determination of BC reserves. It ran for 3 years and reported in 1916. In 1924 the federal government changed the contours of many reserves, adding land in some places, taking it away in others, all without the consent of the First Nations of BC. Then in 1927 the federal Indian Act was amended to make it illegal for First Nations organizations to pursue their grievances. With minor exceptions this was how the reserve question stood until the 1980s, when provincial government policy changed. Some of the so-called cut-off lands were returned to aboriginal bands, or compensation was paid, resolving a long-standing grievance.
In 1990 the province agreed to enter into a treaty-making process with BC First Nations and the federal government, a process that will inevitably affect the future of reserves (see BC TREATY COMMISSION). As of 2006 several First Nations had signed agreements in principle, one step in the treaty process, but none had concluded final treaties. Under the terms of the Indian Act, registered or "status" Indians are not required to pay tax on income earned working on a reserve or sales tax on items purchased there.
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