University of Victoria law professor James Tully (left) along with Xeni Gwet'in Chief Roger William and Yunest'in Chief Russell Myers Ross during a forum on the Tsilhqot'in rights and title case held Monday evening at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake.

University of Victoria law professor James Tully (left) along with Xeni Gwet'in Chief Roger William and Yunest'in Chief Russell Myers Ross during a forum on the Tsilhqot'in rights and title case held Monday evening at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake.

TRU hosts rights and title decision forum

First Nations need to catch up to the rest of Canadians, Xeni Gwet'in Chief Roger William said during a forum Monday.

First Nations need to catch up to the rest of Canadians.

That’s the message Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William shared during a panel discussion on the recent Supreme Court decision on rights and title for the Tsilhqot’in held Monday at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake.

“Once we catch up I believe this country will bloom,” William said.

The Tsilhqot’in have ritual beliefs on how to conduct themselves on the land and with each other, they have their culture and language.

His people need to restore what they had before contact, he added.

Hosted by the TRU’s Kamloops law school, the panel discussion wrapped up two days of meetings of Tsilhqot’in leaders with academics and students from across the country.

“We’ve been discussing the decision and its impacts,” said professor Nicole Schabus as she introduced the panel members.

Around 125 people attended the panel discussion.

When asked if Ts’ilos Provincial Park campgrounds will still run and be open to the public, William answered that is something still ahead for the Tsilhqot’in to negotiate with the provincial government.

“Before the title we were co-managers, meeting once a month with BC Parks, and looked at referrals and making decisions,” William said, adding the Tsilhqot’in had their own park ranger who was out on the land as part of the management.

Jim Tanis applauded the court decision saying he grew up in the Chilcotin and it has been a long time coming.

However, he said there is a lot of uncertainty and questions for people in the region.

What happens in the meantime while politicians and the Tsilhqot’in work out the details, Tanis asked.

“A lot of people here tonight are involved with working on the land, a lot in forestry, business people from here in town, both First Nations and non-First Nations people who are going to be affected by this decision.”

There will be short-term and long-term agreements and each situation will be different, William responded.

“Some of these could be pretty simple and some could be complicated,” he said. “I envision a place where we can sit down with the government to discuss on the ground harvesting or minerals extraction – those are outstanding issues in the Chilcotin.”

One of the six Tsilhqot’in communities harvests timber, while another community doesn’t agree with harvesting, William said.

For the interim while they iron out the details, the Tsilhqot’in have signed stewardship and strategic engagement agreements with the provincial government that will improve the relationship between First Nations and government, William added.

Yunesit’in Chief Russell Myers Ross said the Supreme Court ruling — granting rights and title to 1,750 square km of land — assures Canadians of a just resolve.

“The court could have chosen continued denial or declare title,” Ross said.

“The Supreme Court accepted title through an entire region where people had to live to sustain themselves.”

Through the ruling, the Court determined Aboriginal title isn’t limited to the land, but includes the natural resources, said Osgoode Hall Law School professor Kent McNeil.

When asked how title can be proven, the Court said it depends on exclusive occupation of the land during the time the Crown was asserting its ownership.

“Aboriginal title is territorial in nature and when proven gives property rights,” McNeil added.

“It’s an opportunity for the Tsilhqot’in because they now have recognized ownership and can benefit economically.”

University of Victoria Law professor James Tully described the Supreme Court decision as very important for the history of Canada.

“It’s about a new way of relating between First Nations and government, and First Nations and non-First Nations,” Tully said. “The recognition of Aboriginal title is helping to reconcile uncertain and damaged relationships.”


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