On Thursday June 26 and for the first time in Canadian history, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled a vote in favour of granting the declaration of land in British Columbia to the province’s First Nations.
The Tsilhqot’in Nation of British Columbia has been given title to land located near their community territory surrounding Williams Lake, B.C., covering a total of 1,700 square kilometres of land. The appeal was brought to the courts by Chief Roger William Xeni Gwet’in First Nation group, one of six bands of the Tsilhqot’in.
The ruling of the Supreme Court focused on that part of land, but also entailed an easier process for First Nations when it comes to establishing titles over other unresolved lands.
The court’s ruling defined ‘giving land a title’ with a broader meaning. In an excerpt from the court document, it states:
“The nature of Aboriginal title is that it confers on the group that holds it the exclusive right to decide how the land is used and the right to benefit from those uses, subject to the restriction that the uses must be consistent with the group nature of the interest and the enjoyment of the land by future generations.”
Although the land under Aboriginal title will still be considered under provincial jurisdiction, and therefore provincial law will still be in place.
On Wednesday, Vancouver City Council also formally recognized that the city is on unceded Aboriginal territory and will be working with the First Nations community to present “appropriate protocols” to conduct city business.
The decision marks a great advancement in Canada-First Nation relations after a long battle with the courts to obtain Aboriginal title. Legal action to protect and preserve First Nation land title dates back to 1989.
“We are fully committed to continuing to build trust and strengthening those relationships,” said Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton in her reaction to the court’s ruling. “We’ve seen the benefits that come to First Nation communities and to all of us, when First Nations have the opportunity to fully participate in the economy.”
This decision comes just a bit over a week after the federal government approved of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline.
In the Supreme Court’s ruling, it was made clear that economic development can still go ahead on land with Aboriginal title, as long as the government makes sure one of these two conditions are met:
- Receiving the consent of the First Nations.
- Proving that the case of development is pressing and substantial, while gaining trust of the aboriginal group.
In an interview with CBC News, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs said, “We all heard the decision at the same moment, and the room just erupted in cheers and tears. Everybody is absolutely jubilant. It’s very emotional.”
Featured Image: Supreme Court of Canada via Shutterstock