Supreme Court grants land title to B.C. First Nation

Unanimous ruling is a Canadian first


OTTAWA — For the first time, the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized a First Nation’s title to a specific tract of land — a historic decision with major implications for contentious energy projects such as the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Thursday’s 8-0 decision, which overturned an appeal court ruling, will essentially make it easier for First Nations to establish title over lands that were regularly used for hunting, fishing and other activities.

The landmark ruling is the Supreme Court’s first on aboriginal title and will apply wherever there are unresolved land claims.

“The claimant group bears the onus of establishing aboriginal title,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in the decision.

“The task is to identify how pre-sovereignty rights and interests can properly find expression in modern common law terms.”

Title, however, is not absolute, the top court declared; economic development can still go ahead on land where title is established as long as one of two conditions is met.

Economic development on land where title is established would require the consent of the First Nation. Failing that, the government would have to make the case that development is pressing and substantial and meet its fiduciary duty to the aboriginal group.

In other words, the decision places a greater burden on governments to justify economic development on aboriginal land.

The court also makes it clear that provincial law still applies to land over which aboriginal title has been declared, subject to constitutional limits.

Chief Roger William of Xeni Gwet’in, one of six bands that make up the Tsilhqot’in First Nation, said he welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to grant a recognition of aboriginal title to 1,750 square kilometres of territory.

“First Nations across this country have taken legal action, entered into treaty, practised their language and demonstrated use of the land and through this they have supported us — we thank you,” he said in a statement.

The case dates back to the early 1990s, when the Tsilhqot’in First Nation first began using the courts and a blockade to stop logging operations in the area, setting off a two-decade legal odyssey that has cost tens of millions of dollars.

The Tsilhqot’in, whose territory is near Williams Lake, B.C., is made up of six aboriginal bands that together include about 3,000 people.

One of those bands, the Xeni Gwet’in, claimed aboriginal title over two areas it considered its traditional land. A forestry company attempted to secure access to those areas beginning in 1980s, eventually setting off the current court case.

In May of 1992, the Tsilhqot’in staged a blockade to prevent work on a bridge related to proposed forestry activity, which ended when then-premier Mike Harcourt promised there would be no further logging in the area without the consent of the Xeni Gwet’in.

Much of the area in dispute was turned into a provincial park in 1994, but the band and the province have been fighting over the remaining land ever since. The area at the centre of the court case represents about five per cent of what Tsilhqot’in band considers its traditional territory.

The trial, which began in November 2002 and continued for nearly five years, heard evidence that the Tsilhqot’in have been present in the area for more than 250 years.

But the trial also heard the Tsilhqot’in were “semi-nomadic,” with few permanent encampments, even though they saw the area as their own and protected it from outsiders.

Jody Wilson-Raybould, British Columbia regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, called Thursday’s decision a “game changer.” Unlike other provinces, British Columbia does not have modern-day treaties with its First Nations, so the ruling has significant implications.

“The court has clearly sent a message that the Crown must take aboriginal title seriously and reconcile with First Nations honourably,” she said in a statement.

“The decision is an opportunity to truly settle, once and for all, the land question in B.C. — where our nations are not simply making claims to the Crown under an outdated federal policy but where there must be true reconciliation based on recognition and where the outcome of negotiations is certain.”


Supreme Court grants land title to B.C. First Nation

  1. What’s going on in BC….? That’s two steps forward in two days?

    • It’s sadly amazing how much harpo and ALL Cons hate this “Canadian Constituion”, that was initially defacto-implemented, by (you know who, way back when).
      And now, our present Gov’t will pretend to be surprised, why the Constitution’s fairness in legalities, for ALL canadian peoples’, (especially 1st Nations, …) is biting them back in the butt ?
      In the end, however, the 1% wealthy, along with their Corporate schills, will sadly win :(

  2. wow, I guess that means the Federal Gov’t actually has to step in, and do their JOB, like they should’ve done in the very first place, AND, what they’re (taxpayers)had paid them to do, in the first place, instead of just letting Enbridge, and other illegitamate foreign interests, take the impossible flac for all this mess now.?
    This is unbelievable. Harper has some severe socialogical issues, when it comes to dealing with Canadian taxpayers,…, period !
    Leave it to that utter dunderhead Harpo, to have managed to even screw this all up, just like he screwed up the Keystones, …, just like he screwed up,…
    There is now way that even level-headed Albertans want this PMO and his henchmen in, for any longer.
    Maybe if harpo would’ve just sat down with “everyone”, a few years ago, then all this would not have been backfiring now ?!
    …and it’s gonna get a lot worse, before this gets better-if at all ?
    October/2015 ppl, remember this date for the end of this present Govt’s infamy.

    • rickster’s bloviating aside……..

      Those non-aboriginal folks who own property in BC have just seen the value of their property drop. If you own a home in Vancouver……..hope you like your new landlords, because they WILL be coming after you.

      • After 300 years, it’s time to straighten it out. And it’s going to happen all across Canada.

      • Vancouver will continue to do quite well, just now without oil spills all over the place.

      • “Coming after” me?
        That sounds scary. What does it mean?
        It would be a catastrophic drop in price if my property ever dropped to Halifax-level value.
        But given you perfect record of wrong I’m pretty sure there’s nothing to worry about.

        • Lenny,

          I’m not really concerned about BC. I lived in Victoria for a while, and when I sold my house, I made out with about $200K profit.

          I’m not worried….but it will get interesting once the aboriginal folks start demanding passports a la Caledonia.

          you’ll see.

      • dude, I was in that northern BC town, a thousand miles north of Vancouver, where the proposed Gateway is going. – it is especially NOT any Rich home-building/real-esate enerprises going on up there.
        However, it does belong to the peoples’ that have lived and survived there for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and dna can histrically prove it.
        It has nuthin’ to do with present real-estate property values in Hongcouver, except for the obvious fact that (Vancouver) resl-estate is way too high-and waitin’ for the inevitable crash, but then again, tell us something that any other canadian doesn’t already know?

        Let me guess, you bought some northern marshland near the proposed Gateway coming, hoping to make a quick buck, and now your pissed because of this ? -even “Halifax” doesn’t suit you.

        • I no longer own any properties in BC….sold them.

          Not my problem any more……………….but for the folks who happen to live, or own land within this tract the Supreme’s just turned over….different story.

          • This comment has been removed.

          • Lenny,

            I’m not sure what comment you left that had the moderators delete it without my seeing it………but I will let you know I disapprove of anyone stopping you from saying it.

            whether I agree with you or not (most likely not…but you know what I’m saying)

    • Just when you thought that “let one in and there goes the neighbourhood” had been throughly discredited, along comes Jim-Ricky of Halifax.

      • It is not a matter of “letting just one in” budster….

        It is a matter of the Supreme court telling non-aboriginal people who hold title to property in BC, or affected areas, that they are on their own.

        • As point out above, you’re lying.

          • Didn’t see what you said above, as it was given the chop…..but you can call me what you will.

            And I’m not lying……just saying, “watch what happens next”

      • “It is a matter of the Supreme court telling non-aboriginal people who hold title to property in BC, or affected areas, that they are on their own” is absolutely a lie.
        The ruling didn’t give the Tsilhqot’in title to any private property.

        • Wait for it, Lenny.

          by the way….ever hear of a little place in Ontario called “Caledonia”

          • “It is a matter of the Supreme court telling non-aboriginal people who hold title to property in BC, or affected areas, that they are on their own”

            Like so much that you post, the above is a complete and utter fabrication.
            Aren’t you the least bit ashamed of yourself?

          • Again….

            Wait for it.

            Ever hear of Caledonia? (You never answered this part)

          • You told big fat lies when you said, “the Supreme court telling non-aboriginal people who hold title to property in BC, or affected areas, that they are on their own” and suggested that the Supreme Court “handed over” private land.

            Your lies about what was contained in the Court’s ruling have nothing to do with Caledonia or waiting for anything.

          • Lenny,

            I was assuming you would be able to consider the impact of the decision without having it spelled out for you.

            Guess I was wrong about your ability for comprehension. I gave you too much credit. Oh well…..your failing, not mine.

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