The Tsilhqot’in Go to Ottawa

What that means and why it is important to their rejection of the Prosperity mine proposal

On Thursday, January 24, Canada’s top court issued a decision granting the Tsilhqot’in First Nation permission to appeal a ruling that rejected its claim to aboriginal title over 440,000 hectares of land.  Here is a synopsis of why there was a collective sigh of relief – and the implications.

For generations, since contact, First Nations have fought for recognition of their title to their core traditional lands.  Over time, the courts have steadily rejected the Crown’s denials of Aboriginal title based on the doctrine of discovery, or terra nullius, or extinguishment, and confirmed that Aboriginal title continues to exist – in theory.  To this day, 15 years after Delgamuukw, First Nations still await the first recognition of Aboriginal title on the ground. 

The William case squarely raises one of the most central issues of indigenous rights that has persisted for centuries: what land rights do First Nations hold today over the lands that they held in their control before the Crown asserted sovereignty?  The resolution of this issue will speak to the place of First Nations in the fabric of Canadian society, the extent to which they will control their own future, and the shape of Crown-First Nations relations for decades to come.

The trial court in the William case, for the first time in modern history, identified extensive Aboriginal title lands in the heart of Tsilhqot’in country, including the Nemiah Valley. The BC Court of Appeal overturned the trial judge on this issue, holding that Aboriginal title can be established only to small, intensively used sites, and not to the core hunting, trapping, gathering areas that a First Nation controlled and used to sustain their communities and culture, year after year, season after season. In the eyes of the BC Court of Appeal, indigenous ways of using and occupying the land aren’t “intensive” enough to prove title to land — a decision denounced by First Nations across BC and Canada as the same discriminatory and insulting reasoning that underscored the now discredited “doctrine of discovery” and terra nullius. In the words of Chief Joe Alphonse, Tsilhqot’in Tribal Chair, “We’re grateful to have the opportunity to present to the Supreme Court of Canada a different path to reconciliation. And we are honoured to stand with the support of First Nations across British Columbia and Canada. Together, our voices will be heard at last”.

How does this affect the battle over the Prosperity Mine?

• The Tsilhqot’in have proven Aboriginal rights to hunt, trap and trade right where Taseko Mines wanst to develop New Prosperity.  The Court of Appeal confirmed those rights.  The mine should be stopped for this reason alone.  The SCC decision today is one more warning sign for the mine.

• Prosperity was rejected because of devastating impacts on Tsilhqot’in culture, rights and traditional lands.  In their view, nothing has changed with New Prosperity. 

• The Tsilhqot’in spent five years at trial and succeeded in stopping clearcut logging in this critical part of our territory.  Almost immediately after, they had to fight off this massive open-pit mine proposal in the same area.  This shows why they need the courts to recognize their Aboriginal title.  So they have some control in how these incredibly important lands are managed – so they’re not always in a life and death battle for cultural survival.

Press release issued by Tsilhqot’in after the SCC decision

Posted by Admin Friday Jan 25, 2013 10:30
Categories: Environment , Fish Lake, Taseko , Teztan Biny | Tags:

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