Xeni Gwet'in (Nemiah Indian Band) Chief Roger William.

Xeni Gwet'in (Nemiah Indian Band) Chief Roger William.

Tsilhqot’in win Aboriginal title case

The persistence of a small group of First Nations has paved the way for rights and title for all First Nations in Canada.

The persistence of a small group of First Nations in the Cariboo-Chilcotin has paved the way for rights and title for all First Nations in Canada.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada handed down a unanimous precedent-setting decision in favour of the Xeni Gwet’in, of the Tsilhqot’in Nation, declaring Aboriginal title to approximately 1,700 square kilometres in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region of B.C.

On a grander scale, many expect the case will have much farther reaching implications on how provincial and federal governments work with First Nations.

“It’s a game changer,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, during a national press conference held Thursday morning in Vancouver.

All six Tsilhqot’in chiefs were on hand for the historic decision, including Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William who is named in the case.

“I am elated,” William said.”We’re going to celebrate on July 4 in Xeni and take it from there.”

William, who has been a part of the rights and title case for the last 24 years, left the annual week-long Xeni Gwet’in Wagon Journey to the Williams Lake Stampede early Tuesday to attend the decision in Vancouver.

He expressed gratitude to the many First Nations and Non-First Nations people and organizations who intervened on the Tsilhqot’ins’ behalf over the years.

In its decision, the Supreme Court ruled aboriginal title should not be restricted to settlement sites and other places frequently occupied by semi-nomadic aboriginal people, but extended to areas used traditionally.

The fight for rights and title was born in 1983 out of a dispute between Xeni Gwet’in and a logging company who was set to log on the north end of the band’s trapline.

After the community successfully protected the trapline, the logging company then planned to log the Brittany Triangle, near Xeni Gwet’in, at which point members of the Xeni Gwet’in, with support of the Tsilhqot’in Nation blockaded.

The bid to stop the logging and protect the trapline was combined by the community’s legal team and became the historic William Rights and Title Case that it is today.

“Today I am thinking of the chiefs and elders who told me long ago the title case might have to go to the Supreme Court of Canada,” William said.  “Many of those people who testified are no longer with us.”

The ruling is a gigantic win for the Tsilhqot’in and a new day for B.C. and Canada, said Anaham Chief Joe Alphonse, Tsilhqot’in National Government Tribal Chairman.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better decision,” he said. “No First Nation has ever got title anywhere in Canada.”

The ruling forces government and industry to deal with First Nations in a meaningful way, meaning they will need approval of First Nations to move forward, Alphonse said.

Yunesit’in (Stone Indian Band) Chief Russell Myers Ross said the decision is a relief and vindication the Tsilhqot’in have been on the right track.

“We still have to look through the details of the decision, but there are cases where industry and government will have to apply consent to a lot more of the laws that may be applicable to title but also re-looking at some of the infringements of Aboriginal rights,” Myers Ross said, adding it’s been a 150-year-old battle questioning who has jurisdiction and title over the land.

“We’re finally moving from the political environment of denial to acknowledgement of fact that we do have title and it means engagement will have to be a little bit different.”

William said economic development is a part of the future, but will have to be environmentally and economically sound. The decision provides certainty for all Canadians, he added.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said parties supporting the Tsilhqot’in in this case worked collectively to ensure the Supreme Court of Canada would understand that recognizing Indigenous Title and Rights does not diminish Canadian society but enriches it.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sandi Griffiths is the region’s new district manager of transportation for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
New MOTI district manager takes the wheel in Williams Lake

Sandi Griffiths replaces Todd Hubner who retired recently

Mclean Silverton rides a rail in Boitanio Park - one of seven new features installed by the city this past week. (Greg Sabatino photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Snow park in Boitanio open for riding

If any users find that the park requires attention, please contact city hall at 250-392-2311

A snowfall warning has been issued for Williams Lake and Quesnel. (Black Press Media)
Snowfall warning issued for Cariboo region

Between 10 to 15 cm expected

Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP) co-ordinator Surinderpal Rathor (from left) Judy Gibbons and Rajneesh Khugsal, seen here in 2020, are all ready to help people file their taxes. (Patrick Davies photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake volunteers ready to offer community income tax program

Co-ordinator Surinderpal Rathor said he has already received inquiries

Women’s Contact Society community liaison Eileen Alberton with her dogs Luigi, left, and Sami enjoys a daily walk in Big Lake. (Photo submitted)
Women’s wellness focus of International Women’s Day events in Williams Lake

In its third year, the event will be offered virtually

Abbotsford’s Kris Collins turned to TikTok out of boredom when the provincial COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020. She now has over 23 million followers on the video app. Photo: Submitted
Internet famous: Abbotsford’s Kris Collins is a TikTok comedy queen

Collins has found surprise stardom alone with a phone

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)
Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Kara Sorensen, diagnosed with lung cancer in July, says it’s important for people to view her as healthy and vibrant, rather than sick. (Photo courtesy of Karen Sorensen)
B.C. woman must seek treatment overseas for inoperable lung cancer

Fundraising page launched on Karen Sorensen’s behalf, with a goal of $250,000

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

Most Read