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

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

Just Posted

West Shore RCMP is asking for the public’s help in locating Mackenzie Courchene, a Langford teenager.
MISSING: Mackenzie Courchene last seen in Langford on March 2

West Shore RCMP is asking for the public’s help in locating the Langford teenager

Rendering of the proposed Esquimalt public safety building. (Courtesy Township of Esquimalt)
Esquimalt blazes new trail toward modern public safety building

Township using alternative approval process for first time to gauge public support for proposal

Landmarks such as Howard the giant gnome at Galey's Farm in Saanich make a stunning backdrop for celebratory dance in the Greater Victoria Festival Society trailer for its coming Dance Victoria campaign. (Screeshot/Greater Victoria Festival Society)
Residents’ videos help campaign Dance Across Victoria

Celebratory dance clips to be compiled into Greater Victoria Festival Society video

Reynolds Secondary School’s spring musical Freaky Friday features Grace Fouracre as teen Ellie Blake (left) who swaps bodies with her overworked mother, Katherine, played by Nadia Lurie. (Photo courtesy Reynolds Secondary School)
Saanich high school goes virtual with Freaky Friday musical

Reynolds Secondary theatre program to livestream performances March 9-12

Saanich Fire Department. Black Press Media File Photo
Fire displaces three Saanich families from two homes

Saanich firefighters found the fire had spread to a neighbouring home upon arriving

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
‘It’s been a good week’: Tam hopeful on vaccines as pandemic anniversary nears

Tam says the addition of two new vaccines will help Canadians get immunized faster

Const. Allan Young. Photo: Abbotsford Police Department
Manslaughter charge laid in Nelson death of Abbotsford police officer

Allan Young died after an incident in downtown Nelson last summer

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

The Port Alice pulp mill has been dormant since 2015. (North Island Gazette file photo)
Parts recycled, life returning to inlet as as old Port Alice mill decommissioned

Bankruptcy company oversees de-risking the site, water treatment and environmental monitoring

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

(Black Press Media files)
Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Most Read