The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN) is heading to the Supreme Court of Canada
Have you heard?
The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN) is heading to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) February 7th to assert their powers of self-government.
Most legal cases that protect Indigenous rights in Canada rely on Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. But, when the VGFN signed the monumental Vuntut Gwitchin Self-Government Agreement (SGA) in the 1990’s, the Nation took a major step outside of Canada’s jurisdiction and created their own constitution. While VGFN has made huge strides towards sovereignty, the extent to which Canada respects Indigenous self-governance remains open to the courts to interpret.
On February 7th, the courts will discuss the SGA alongside the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to determine who prevails for deciding individual rights: Vuntut Gwitchin or Canada.
This is an important case. But: did you know the VGFN has won a major victory before? In 2017, with RAVEN’s support, VGFN, Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nations went all the way to the Supreme Court to protect over 5.5 million hectares of land in the Yukon, an area the size of Switzerland. The Peel Watershed is now managed under Indigenous law in a relational stewardship system, where grizzly bears, wolves, moose, and the culturally-significant boreal caribou can adapt to a climate that is warming twice as quickly as it is in the rest of the world.
VGFN’s Self-Government Agreement —although signed in the same pen stroke as the modern treaty that protected the Peel Watershed — falls outside of the purview of Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Instead, the SGA is a separate framework that demands VGFN be recognized as a sovereign Nation — not just an entity within Canada or the Yukon. The February 7th hearing will be a test with two possible outcomes. One outcome has Canada’s courts continuing to behave as a colonizing force, preventing Indigenous Nations from making complex legal decisions in their communities and territories. The other outcome — and the one we want to see — will see the courts legitimately respecting Indigenous self-governance and upholding VGFN sovereignty.
A big shout-out to First Peoples Law for spreading the word about the VGFN’s case: check-out this link to First Peoples Law website for more details, resources, and to watch the live hearing on Feb 7th!