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Supreme Court Grants Canada’s First Aboriginal Title Declaration

Thursday Jun 26, 2014
  Victoria, British Columbia, June 26, 2014 - After a courageous struggle, a small Tsilhqot'in First Nation that took on the governments of Canada and British Columbia to protect their land and way of life has been victorious at the Supreme Court of Canada.  Today, the court upheld the trial findings of the late Justice David Vickers, and granted the very first declaration of Aboriginal title in Canada.

"The Court has acknowledged our title to the land," said Chief Roger William of Xeni Gwet'in First Nation, "Since time immemorial we have always said that this is our land and acted to defend it, this is our law - now it is recognized in Canadian law.  This ruling will help other governments understand that further steps are needed to achieve recognition for the entire Tsilhqot'in territory."

"For 156 years, since the colony of British Columbia was formed, the government has assumed that it owns the land, ignoring the rights of Indigenous peoples," said Jack Woodward, lawyer for the Plaintiff.  "In today's judgment, the Supreme Court declared that First Nations continue to own their lands. The denial of aboriginal land rights, and its violent and grim social results, can no longer continue in light of this ground-breaking ruling."

"We are happy with the Court’s decision," said Chief William. "We are glad to see Canada’s highest court finally agree with what we have been saying all along. This is Tsilhqot'in land. It always has been.”

Throughout Canada, governments made treaties with First Nations to purchase their lands, but this did not happen in most of British Columbia. The provincial and federal governments have repeatedly denied the existence of the homelands of First Nations in this province.  The United Nations has stressed that the recognition of land rights is required to develop economic and social frameworks for self-determination.

“This decision changes the legal landscape in British Columbia for industrial project development, whether its mines, pipelines, or LNG; proponents now have a clearer sense of the jurisdictional power of First Nations and their ability to protect their lands from unsustainable development,” noted Woodward.

Woodward & Company LLP would like to say sechanalyagh! to the Tsilhqot'in Elders and all the Tsilhqot'in people who worked so hard for so many years to make this outcome possible.  We would also like to thank all the organizations and individuals whose personal sacrifices and support over this 25-year journey were indispensible.  This could not have happened without the efforts and dedication of so many, including the years of effort by all the Plaintiff-side members of the Aboriginal Law bar and the courageous trial decision of the late Justice David Vickers; we raise our hands to you!  Thank you to our friends and families for their love, support and sacrifices. Thank you to the Songhees and Lekwungen people on whose lands we live and work.  And, as ever, as always, to our fearless leader Jack, whose courage and unsinkable belief that justice will always prevail is our guiding light.

http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/14246/index.do

(In photo above from left to right:  David Rosenberg Q.C., Chief Roger William, David Robbins, Jay Nelson)

For our analysis of what this means for First Nations, follow this link



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