Blazing a Trail for Justice

What We Do

First Nations First.

Woodward & Company LLP works exclusively for First Nations governments and organizations in their quest for justice. Idealists at heart, we will fight tenaciously to rectify past and present wrongs. Let us help bring your long battle for self-determination to an end and build a better, brighter tomorrow.

History Making Litigation

The full story of our victory for justice and the Supreme Court of Canada’s first land title judgement.

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Aboriginal Title

Woodward & Co. LLP, and the courageous clients we work with, have led the way on Aboriginal title actions.  We won the first injunction based on Aboriginal title to protect Meares Island in Clayoquot Sound.  We won a costs-in-advance order which enabled the Xeni Gwet’in of the Tsilhqot’in to pursue a long and hard-fought Aboriginal rights and title trial against British Columbia and Canada.  On behalf of the Tsilhqot’in, we are the first law firm in Canada to successfully prove Aboriginal title. In 1983, we brought the Meares Island action for Aboriginal title (McMillan Bloedel v. Mullen) on behalf of the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations. Ultimately, we obtained an injunction on behalf of the Nations to stop the logging of the island – an injunction that remains in place today.  After the injunction win, the then-Solicitor General of British Columbia wrote the judge and asked that the trial be placed in abeyance while the British Columbia Treaty process got underway. We also litigated the Williams case (Tsihlqot’in Nation v. British Columbia and Canada) – a 339-day trial during which 29 Tsilhqot’in witnesses gave evidence, many in their own language. At the trial level, Justice Vickers made a number of important findings that will impact future relations between the governments of Canada and British Columbia and First Nations governments, including:

  1. The Tsilhqot’in people have a legal system that governs behavior and land use.
  2. The Tsilhqot’in people have aboriginal rights, including the right to trade furs to obtain a moderate livelihood, throughout the entire claim area.
  3. British Columbia’s had infringed the Aboriginal rights and title of the Tsilhqot’in people, and had no justification for doing so.
  4.  Canada’s Parliament has unacceptably denied and avoided its constitutional responsibility to protect Aboriginal lands and Aboriginal rights, pursuant to s. 91(24) of the Constitution of Canada.

We can provide a review of existing historical and anthropological records, interview your Elders and other knowledge-keepers about your oral history, and provide an assessment of your strength of claim based on the legal tests for Aboriginal title.  This information can be useful in the consultation and accommodation context as well – providing important negotiating power.

Aboriginal & Treaty RIghts
We provide legal representation to First Nations who wish to assert and defend their Aboriginal and Treaty rights, including those rights relating to hunting, fishing and other cultural activities. We work closely with First Nations to develop strategic action plans to exercise their rights and assert greater control over their traditional territory.
Taxation

Woodward & Company LLP provides legal advice on all matters related to taxation, including taxation by First Nations themselves and on minimizing liabilities arising from Provincial and Federal taxes.  We assist clients to develop corporate and business structures that address tax issues, while being designed to provide accountability and ease of corporate governance within and alongside your existing governance structures. First Nation Taxation Bylaws and Laws We provide advice concerning the development, implementation, and administration of First Nation taxation regimes under the Indian Act, the First Nations Fiscal Management Act, and the First Nations Goods and Services Tax Act. Our past successes include the implementation of real property, commodity, and sales tax regimes.  We can work with communities, Councils, and economics experts to help create tax structures that work for the community. Income Tax Exemptions We also provide advice on the income tax exemptions available to First Nations and First Nation entities including businesses, band-empowered entities, and tribal councils. We have experience in the taxation of income from employment, business, and investment and can advise on how best to make use of both Income Tax Act and Indian Act exemptions. Provincial Sales Tax Exemptions We assist First Nations and their corporate entities in tax planning to minimize sales tax impacts.  Woodward & Company LLP conducted the Metlakatla Ferry Services Ltd. v. British Columbia case back in 1987 where the Court of Appeal held that the situs of the lease of a ferry, held by the leasee, the First Nation, was located on reserve and therefore exempt from Provincial taxes. Our firm has worked with many clients over the years to help shape the common law on tax exemptions and look forward to continuing this work as First Nations governments take back control of their government financing. Effective tax planning requires creativity and the ability to work effectively with other consulting specialists, including accountants, business advisors, and the community at large.  We understand the impacts that a new tax regime can have on a community and on its elected representatives and will work thoughtfully to help craft a plan for a self-sustaining future for your government.

Indigenous Law
We assist First Nations in identifying and articulating their own legal traditions so that they can be used: to assist in governance and administrative decision-making; to guide the development and implementation of laws for the Nation – including asserting legal jurisdiction over lands and resources; and, to assist and strengthen the evidence required for Aboriginal rights and title litigation and consultation and regulatory processes.
Specific Claims
Coming soon
Business & Economic Development

We provide effective legal services and strategic advice on the creation and administration of all forms of business structures, business associations, incorporated non-profit entities, partnership structures, and trusts. We assist Nations in all aspects of economic development both on and off reserve. We facilitate Indian Act designation, permit and leasing processes, and are one of the most experienced law firms in Canada at developing, transitioning and implementing Land Codes and related laws.

Environmental Law & Contaminated Sites
We assist First Nations and environmental organizations in accessing a wide range of legal tools to protect lands, forests, wildlife, fish, and marine environments. We also help resolve on-reserve contamination, through litigation and developing relationships with INAC. We have been successful in obtaining funding for large-scale remediation projects for contaminated lands.
Land Code

We have assisted many First Nations in the drafting and implementation of Land Codes, laws and policies under the First Nations Land Management Act, and the Framework Agreement.  Past successes include: Land Code Development:

  • Helping to draft Land Codes;
  • Negotiating Individual Agreements for the transfer of Land Management Authority from Canada to First Nations;
  • Assisting with community consultation and ratification;

Land Code Implementation:

  • Working with First Nations to develop and institute matrimonial property laws that are strongly grounded in traditional law;
  • Drafting comprehensive environmental monitoring and assessment laws and regulations;
  • Providing advice concerning First Nation Land real property transactions and registration;
  • Assisting with Land governance structures, processes, policies and procedures; and
  • Working with Nations to create subdivision and servicing laws, building codes and the other supporting legislation that enable sustainable and commercially-successful development to proceed.

We help First Nations to take back control of their lands and to work with their community to develop laws and policies that work, that are sensitive to cultural concerns, and that are guided by each Nation’s individual priorities.

Law, Bylaw & Policy Development
Coming soon
Corporate & Commercial Law

We work for First Nations clients in all facets of commercial business development and associated transactions.  We can assist in creating new business structures, and restructuring existing businesses, so that your Nation can strike an appropriate balance between the Council’s governance responsibilities and empowering development corporations to achieve profitability and success. In our experience, common business structures, such as limited partnerships and standard incorporated companies, can make use of existing tools to safeguard Aboriginal rights and title while enabling sound, and timely, business response.  A deep understanding of the legislation that impacts First Nations and their corporate structures, as well as the fiduciary responsibilities of First Nation governments, is important to arriving at a sound model for corporate governance and responsibility. We are experienced in overseeing complex secured transactions and working with accountants to develop the best blend of equity investment and borrowing to provide the most affordable financing.  We can also assist with structures and procedures that help to maximize income through the appropriate use of a) Indian Act exemptions; b) applicable sections of the Income Tax Act; and, c) common corporate strategies for limiting tax liabilities. We understand commercial land development both on and off reserve and can assist with the designation process.  We can help draft appropriate leases and agreements under the Indian Act or in the Land Code environment. We help develop both business and community trusts and work with clients to build internal capacity for the management of both, to ensure that impact benefits agreements and other economic development strategy can enable long-term economic stability  and self-direction for your community.

Consultation & Accommodation

We provide advice on the Crown’s obligations to fully consult and accommodate First Nations regarding proposed activities in their traditional territories. We work with communities to develop in-house capacity while assuring a strategic approach that increases their ability to control decision-making respecting their lands.

Impact Benefits Agreements
We have negotiated high-profile impact benefits agreements between First Nations, other governments and industry proponents. Years of experience and feedback from our clients have taught us what kinds of benefits have positive outcomes. We can help with setting up community trusts that will protect these benefits for the future of your community.
Governance

Woodward and Company LLP supports clients in all areas of self-determination, governance and government-to-government relations. We advise governing bodies on issues such as bylaw development, taxation, financing, utility and municipal services agreements, real property conveyances, and conflicts of interest. Our lawyers have deep experiential knowledge of the governance issues that face elected Councils under both the Indian Act and customary election regimes and can assist in finding community-based solutions that work for your government. Woodward and Company LLP has assisted many First Nations across Canada in drafting, passing, and implementing their custom election codes, assisting those communities to find a governance structure that honours their traditions while preparing to meet the challenges of contemporary governance. We have also assisted in settling numerous internal disputes to arrive at community consensus. We have worked with many Nations to draft or redraft their membership codes.  While contemporary Canadian law makes this a complex process, it will become more and more important in the years ahead that First Nations take up their right to be self-determining and self-defining as Federal rules continue to limit the future application of Status. Our lawyers are well-versed in the law impacting elections and membership codes and are always prepared to travel to your territory to discuss these important matters with your community.

Real Property, Leases & Permits

We assist with all matters involving land development and transfers including: surrenders, leasing, lease enforcement, permitting, Land Code, the purchase and sale of commercial real estate, and secured financing. We have worked with many Nations across Canada to develop laws and regulations in support of Land Code, land-related bylaws, and financial administration laws and regulations in support of borrowing member status with the First Nations Finance Authority.

Employment & Human Rights Law

We represent and advise First Nation employers and Aboriginal organizations on a wide array of employment matters, including: Employment workshops We will come to your community to run workshops for management and staff on those issues that are important to you, including harassment and conflict of interest policies, progressive discipline and codes of ethics. Employment Policies We work closely with Council and your administration to draft (and amend) policies designed to suit your particular First Nation or organization.  We can assist you to put in place policies and procedures designed to limit or prevent future liabilities. Human Rights We have a thorough knowledge of human rights law and represent First Nation employers on a variety of human rights’ matters before tribunals and courts. Contracts We assist with the drafting and structuring of employment contracts, whether permanent or temporary. Dismissal Planning We provide strategic advice and representation to First Nations and Aboriginal organizations before and after termination, including progressive discipline, termination of employment, responding to Canada Labour Code inquiries and appearing before tribunals and courts on employment claims. Jurisdiction We have presented papers to lawyers and clients on the differences and overlaps between, and application of, provincial and federal laws relating to employment on and off-reserve. Our lawyers have a wide breadth of cost-effective and practical employment law experience for First Nation organizations and can assist your agency or government with any employment issue that you have.

Treaty Negotiation & Implementation

We assist Nations with treaty negotiations and all other types of negotiations. We provide advice on the pros and cons of negotiations under the B.C. Treaty process vs. other options, and assist in developing and implementing negotiation strategies. For Nations implementing modern treaties, we have worked with Councils and community committees and have successfully coordinated and overseen development of all necessary First Nation laws and the largest registration of First Nation Treaty land transactions in BC history. We also advise on implementation and working on appropriate own-source revenue financing structures, trusts and related financial management issues.

Regulatory Hearings

Most resource development proposals navigate complex regulatory processes.  Asserting and protecting Aboriginal and treaty rights often requires that First Nations be well-versed in those regulatory regimes in order to maximize the benefits of parallel and/or integrated consultation processes.Tribunals play an important role in administering the law in Canada. In general they are intended to be a more accessible and less expensive forum than a court. Woodward and Company LLP has represented clients in the following regulatory and tribunal processes:

  • Specific Claims Tribunal
  • Energy Resources Conservation Board
  • Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
  • Alberta Energy Regulator
  • Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
  • Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board
  • National Energy Board
  • BC Employment Standards Branch
  • BC Environmental Assessment Office
  • BC Oil and Gas Commission
  • BC Environmental Appeals Board
  • BC Forest Practices Board
  • BC Utilities Commission

We appeared before the Joint Assessment Panel on the Kemess North Mine on behalf of the Tsay Keh Nay and the Panel’s recommendation was:

In the Panel’s view, the economic and social benefits provided by the Project, on balance, are outweighed by the risks of significant adverse environmental, social and cultural effects, some of which may not emerge until many years after mining operations cease. The Panel recommends to the federal and provincial Ministers of the Environment that the Project not be approved as proposed.

There was a similar outcome when we appeared on behalf of the Tsilhqot’in before an independent panel conducting the federal environmental assessment for the Prosperity Mine and in both cases the Federal Cabinet rejected the proposed mines. We can assist in preparing for, making representation to, and appearing in front of, regulatory board and tribunals.  We can work with your Elders, staff and Council to make sure the best evidence is brought forward in the best way so you can assert your rights and powers effectively now and in the future.

Intellectual Property
We assist our clients in obtaining copyrights and trademarks, and in protecting cultural intellectual property like crests, masks, traditional names, and official symbols and marks. We also help in pursuing the return of stolen cultural property.