By Todd Lamirande
It promises to be the biggest decision on Aboriginal title since Delgamuukw in 1997 and have far-reaching consequences.
On Thursday morning, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) will decide whether the Tsilhqot’in Nation holds title to two tracts of land in central British Columbia, totalling 4 400 square kilometres.
The court action began two decades ago.
The government of British Columbia granted logging rights within the traditional territory of the Tsilhqot’in community of Xeni Gwet’in, which is near Williams Lake.
The Tsilhqot’in filed suit in 2002, saying the province ignored their title to the land. In 2007, BC Supreme Court Judge David Vickers ruled that they did had Aboriginal rights throughout the claim area and that they held title to 40 percent of the claimed land.
However, in 2012 BC’s Court of Appeals overruled that decision, saying title only existed in smaller more intensively used areas. The Tsilhqot’in appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which heard the case last November.
“We know the support we have across Canada and we call on all our friends to drum in support of us. We have been waiting years for this moment and anticipating a good outcome for our people,” stated Chief Roger William of the Xeni Gwet’in, the plaintiff in the appeal.
Tribal Chairman Chief Joe Alphonse says their ownership and responsibility of the land will remain the same regardless of the outcome.
“But we expect this to be a favorable decision and we have every hope that the SCC will finally recognize Aboriginal title in British Columbia and end this long history of denial, so that we can start building towards true and lasting reconciliation,” said Alphonse.
Most observers believe the SCC decision will set the rules by which Aboriginal title will be determined.