Tsilhqot’in “landmark decision” rendered by Supreme Court of Canada

Chief Gottfriedson: Decision “finally and simply asserts that First Nations must have a say”

Tsilhqot’in and counsel with legal team representing the Secwepemc, Okanagan and Union of BC Indian Chiefs Interveners before the Supreme Court on Nov. 7, 2013. (Nicole Schabus/Contributed)

Tsilhqot’in and counsel with legal team representing the Secwepemc, Okanagan and Union of BC Indian Chiefs Interveners before the Supreme Court on Nov. 7, 2013. (Nicole Schabus/Contributed)

An important precedent has been set with the June 26 land ti­tle decision made by the Supreme Court of Canada that granted title for some 1,750 km² to the Tsil­hqot’in (Chilcotin) people. The land is located approximately 100 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake.

The decision was a very import­ant outcome that has never been seen in Canada before, according to a TRU faculty member who played a role in the case.

“Within one minute of the de­cision, we knew that the legal ground had shifted, that Aborig­inal land title had finally hit the ground in Canada,” said Nicole Schabus. “It was a very important historic moment, but it is really the moment on which we have to build now.”

Schabus is a member of the law faculty at TRU and was involved with the case. On Friday, Sept. 26, she was one of five speakers who explained the case and its impli­cations at a forum in the Irving K. Barber Centre organized by TR­UFA Human Rights chair Derek Cook.

“It is a landmark decision that came out of the Supreme Court of Canada. I was part of the legal team for the Secwepemc, Okana­gan and Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs interveners,” Schabus said.

Schabus explained that under current provincial legislation, Ab­original land title is not something that is contemplated. She said this decision affirms that First Nations must be consulted.

Tk’emlups Band Chief Shane Gottfriedson called the decision a game changer and that it made clear consultation was “not simply an advisable way to conduct busi­ness, but now the only way to con­duct business in B.C.”

“This decision finally and sim­ply asserts that First Nations must have a say,” he told the nearly-full Irving K. Barber Centre. “Nothing can be decided about us without us,” he said later. “The Tsilhqot’in decision should force government to look at new and alternative measures to the status quo, be­cause the status quo is illegal and the status quo is not working.”

Past Tk’emlups chief Wayne Christian, who was also granted an honorary doctor of laws degree from TRU, presented a detailed treaty history to the audience. Along with a look into the past, Christian gave a prediction for the future.

“The interesting part is that we can chase them out, but they’re going to go to South America and implant themselves in a place where there is no law and no reg­ulation, and they’ll kill the Indian people,” he said.

“This is a world issue. We chase them out of British Columbia, fine, but they’ll go someplace else and do it to some other indigenous people in the world, and I don’t think that’s a good thing, so we have to think about how we col­lectively move forward on sustain­ability, in terms of environment, but also sustainability as a people and our relationships with each other,” Christian said.

Tsilhqot’in chief Joe Alphonse called upon other bands to support the work that has been done and to help establish a new deal, which will “become the new template in dealing with First Nations issues in British Columbia.”

The decision came just months before the 150-year anniversary of the hanging of six Tsilhqot’in chiefs who thought they were meeting with officials to negotiate, but were instead tried for murder and hanged, a piece of history mentioned multiple times during Friday’s forum.

“Sometimes infringement hap­pens because you allow it to hap­pen,” Alphonse said. “In 1864 they executed six of our war chiefs. They don’t do that anymore. What are you guys scared of?”