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

Dasher is back home with mom Christine Girvin thanks to some help from BC Ferries staff. Photo supplied
The cat came back, with help from Comox ferry staff

After Dasher made a dash, ferry staff found her and got her home safe

The Coast Range makes a spectacular backdrop for orca heading towards Discovery Passage of Campbell River Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Photo by Frank Neil
Island wildlife viewers thrilled by close view of passing Orca pod

Group gives wildlife photographers a classic oportunity to view them off Campbell River shoreline

A rendering of the Denman Green plans for the Kirk Road site. Image, DHA/Ronan Design
Denman Green finds new site for housing

Facing COVID delays, the project reached expiration date on initial site

A fawn stands in a field. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
MARS hoping to build fawn complex for rehab

Their goal is to raise $20,000 in a relatively short period of time.

Aspen Park in Comox is the latest school reporting a COVID-19 exposure. Screenshot, Google Maps
Fifth Comox Valley school reports COVID-19 exposure

Exposure at Aspen Park in Comox was reported for Feb. 22

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Photo: Lt. Sandy Pridmore, MARS Darlene Banerd, MARS, Warren Warttig and Captain Rob Stevens show the new automatic external defibrillator (AED) that will be located at the MARS facilities located at 1331 William Beach Road, Black Creek. Photo supplied
Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society adds AED to Williams Beach Road location

Submitted Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS) has collaborated with the Comox Firefighters… Continue reading

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after Friday cancellations due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

Most Read