Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William (left) drums to open a meeting on the Prosperity Mine proposal in Ottawa while Tsilhqo’tin Tribal Chair Joe Alphonse and then-National Chief Shawn Atleo look on

Aboriginal groups celebrate land title ruling

Tsilhqot'in decision rejects B.C. position that title is restricted to settlement areas, includes broad hunting, fishing territories

Aboriginal communities across B.C. are celebrating a court ruling that redefines ownership of their traditional territory outside reserves.

The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s claim to aboriginal title over the Nemiah Valley west of Williams Lake, in a landmark decision with effects across the province.

In a unanimous decision, the country’s highest court rejected the B.C. government’s argument that aboriginal title should be restricted to settlement sites and other places frequently occupied by semi-nomadic aboriginal people.

Joe Alphonse, tribal chief of the Tsilhqot’in Nation, said the ruling is a victory in a struggle that had its roots in deadly conflict with a wave of gold seekers during the 1860s. He said the communities need more control over resources to support more people living on reserves.

“We didn’t fight in this case to separate from Canada,” Alphonse told a news conference in Vancouver Thursday. “We fought in this case to get recognized, to be treated as equals in a meaningful way.”

Settlement sites and others used for hunting and fishing were exhaustively studied in a 2003 B.C. court case that granted broad title but was later overturned by the B.C. Court of Appeal.

“The Province’s criticisms of the trial judge’s findings on the facts are primarily rooted in the erroneous thesis that only specific, intensively occupied areas can support Aboriginal title,” the eight Supreme Court of Canada justices agreed in a unanimous ruling released Thursday.

The Tsilhqot’in case was strengthened by evidence that “prior to the assertion of sovereignty the Tsilhqot’in people repelled other people from their land and demanded permission from outsiders who wished to pass over it,” the judges wrote.

The case began in 1983 when the B.C. government issued timber permits for the region and the Xeni Gwet’in, one of six Tsilhqot’in communities, went to court to stop the logging.

Haida Nation president Peter Lantin said the Tsilhqot’in case strengthens his island community’s title claim, which is being prepared for trial. The Haida claim includes the surrounding ocean off B.C.’s North Coast, which Lantin expects to use against plans for oil tankers from the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal.

Despite the long-running dispute and the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s refusal to take part in treaty talks, the B.C. aboriginal relations ministry signed a three-year “stewardship agreement” with the group June 10. The agreement gives the Tsilhqot’in $670,000 per year to implement a forestry strategy and other resource development.

B.C. Attorney General Suzanne Anton said the Tsilhqot’in ruling, like other aboriginal title cases, emphasizes that negotiated settlements are preferable to court action to settle claims in the majority of the province that are not covered by treaties.

NDP leader John Horgan said the decision shows the B.C. government should have accepted the 2007 decision by B.C. Supreme Court Justice David Vickers.

“Instead, the B.C. Liberal government wasted millions of scarce tax dollars and created seven more years of uncertainty for investors and communities, by blindly pursuing a legal theory that was unanimously and soundly rejected today by the Supreme Court of  Canada,” Horgan said.

 

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Trail RCMP officer accused of criminal harassment, forcible entry

BCPS: The charges against Murchie date between 2017 and 2020

Petition calls on referendum for new city hall development in Rossland

The petition sent to the B.C. government has gathered more than 350 signatures

Trail RCMP safely apprehend man experiencing mental health crisis

A number of frontline agencies were involved in bringing this incident to a peaceful resolve

Trail RCMP, coroner, investigating fisherman’s sudden death

The Maple Ridge man, in his 50s, died while fishing on a bridge near Trail

Lost dog swims Columbia River multiple times searching for home

The dog was missing from his Castlegar home for three days.

The pandemic is widening Canada’s workplace gender gap

Gender pay gap is incentivizing fathers to work while mothers watch children, a new B.C. study has found

Ex-Okanagan Mountie forfeits 20 days’ pay after sexual misconduct review

A former Vernon RCMP constable made sexual comments, grabbed genitals of male officer in two incidents 10 years ago

Man found dead on Okanagan trail identified as Hollywood actor

GoFundMe campaign launched for man found dead at summit of Spion Kop

3 people dead in Prince George motel fire

Fire personnel believe the blaze was suspicious although investigation in early stages

B.C. sets terms to review police, mental health, race relations

MLAs to recommend Police Act changes by May 2021

Feds announce $8.3M to deal with ‘ghost’ fishing gear in B.C. waters

Ghost gear accounts for up to 70 per cent of all macro-plastics in the ocean by weight

Almost 99% less land in B.C. burned this year compared to 2018

2018 was the worst year on record for wildfires

B.C. orders Coastal GasLink to stop pipeline construction near protected wetlands

The 670-kilometre pipeline is planned to transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to Kitimat

Most Read