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Big win for all Onkwehon:we in Landmark BC ruling

A Supreme Court Ruling made public this morning from a British Columbia Court may change the way Canada looks at Onkwehon:we lands and development on traditional lands. It has taken almost 20 years in red tape and court delays, but the Tsilhqot’in Nation land claim concerning a 1,750-sq-kilometer region within the BC interior was ruled Thursday morning to be in control over what development takes place within their traditional territory.

A Supreme Court Ruling made public this morning from British Columbia may change the way Canada looks at Onkwehon:we lands, and development on traditional lands.

It has taken almost 20 years in red tape and court delays, but the Nation have stood firm on their land claim concerning a 1,750-sq-kilometer region within the BC interior ruled Thursday morning the Tsilhqot’in Nation is in full control over what development takes place within their traditional territory.

The ruling has wide ranging implications for First Nations across Canada in their fight against unwanted development, without pre and prior knowledge and consent as well as consultation and accommodation.

The unanimous 8-0 decision represents the first time the Supreme Court has recognized an Onkwehon:we title to a specific piece of land.

The ruling means any agriculture, forestry, mining, and hydroelectric or pipeline development proposed for the area will now require specific consent from the Aboriginal title holder.

Any company wishing to begin operations on the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s land “has to show that it discharged its procedural duty to consult and accommodate; that its actions were backed by a compelling and substantial objective and that the government action is consistent with the Crown’s fiduciary obligation to the group,” ruled Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

The ripples from the landmark ruling will have impact far beyond BC. It sets a new standard applicable to any similar land title claim from coast to coast and establishes new guidelines for the government regarding development and the duty to consult on resource projects, including the Enbridge oil sands, the Keystone pipeline south into the USA, the Northern Gateway pipeline to the west and Line 9 pipelines to the east, where they cross through Native lands.

The Tsilhqot’in Nation took the issue of title to court in 1983 over a logging standoff after the Nation barricaded roads to the logging site to stop the resource extraction from their territory.

They were offered a conditional resolution by the loggers that looked good on the surface, but came with strings attached, and so the offer was refused and they continued the court action.

“Once aboriginal title is confirmed, the lands are ‘vested’ in the aboriginal group and the lands are no longer Crown lands,” McLachlin wrote in Thursday’s judgment.

In 1997, the Supreme Court said title means a right to possession of land that goes beyond the right to hunt and fish on it. Aboriginal groups argued that aboriginal law was as important as the common-law traditions of Canada.

“We now have the opportunity to settle, once and for all, the so-called ‘Indian land question’ in B.C. and elsewhere in Canada where Aboriginal title exists through good-faith negotiations,” commented Jody Wilson-Raybould, Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief of B.C., about the ruling.

Dwight Newman, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Rights at the University of Saskatchewan, is quoted, “It expands the challenge for Enbridge in terms of the consultation, but I don’t think it says anything definitely one way or the other.”

The Tsilhqot’in Nationhas also locked horns with the government over copper and gold extraction from their territories in 2010.

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Jim Windle

Jim Windle

Jim Windle is a veteran news and sports reporter who has been published in a number of mediums and publications. contact Jim: windlejim@rocketmail.com

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