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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.


Resources
Rejection of the "Postage Stamp" Approach to Aboriginal Title: The Tsilhqot'in Nation Decision
Why The Bernard And Marshall Case Doesn't Hurt Aboriginal Title Claims In British Columbia
Developing Your Negotiating Power
The Mythical World of the Paperless Trial
Mapping the Evidence
Press Release:  Historic Decision Reached in Land Claim Case, Tsilhqot'in Nation v. British Columbia, 2007 BCSC 1700