The Xeni Gwet’in (Nemiah Valley) learned this week a tentative court date has been set for Nov. 12, 2013.
Ever since he learned his rights and title case is going to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada, Roger William has been thinking about something his late uncle and former chief Henry Solomon said.
“When you tell the truth you have nothing to worry about. The truth always wins, no matter how long it takes no matter how hard it is. Those are words we’ve all been carrying in our minds,” the former Xeni Gwet’in chief and present band councillor said. After all, the case has been in the courts since 1992.
William and others throughout the Tsilhqot’in Nation have always thought the aboriginal rights and title case would end up in the Supreme Court of Canada.
The rights to hunt, trap, trade and catch and use wild horses was not contested by the provincial or federal government through one of the case’s go-arounds.
“That means those rights were upheld and it becomes law in the court case areas, which is huge,” William said, adding the First Nations feel if B.C. or Canada want to deal with a proposed application in the area, they need to prove that those rights that became the law are not impacted and that they are protected.
“Today First Nations across Canada get a referral and are asked what their aboriginal interests in the area are, where now for the first time ever in B.C., or Canada, there’s a declaration of rights on the land in an area, laid out as hunting, trapping, trade and catching and using wild horses.”
So any species the Xeni Gwet’in hunt or trap, and their habitat, need to be protected.
“That was a big victory there and then we were just waiting for this leave to appeal petition from the Supreme Court of Canada, which came yesterday,” William said, adding it was “great news.”
Last month BC Supreme Court ruled that the federal government will help cover some of the legal costs, however, William said those details have yet to be worked out.
Tsilhqot’in National Government chair Chief Joe Alphonse said it’s time to stop avoiding the issue of rights and title.
“Deal with us in a fair, just and meaningful way. I think this is going to define the relationship between Canada and First Nations people, and I think First Nations people right across Canada are waiting to see what’s going to happen from this case,” Alphonse said.
There’s no date set for the case to be heard as of yet, all Alphonse knows is they have a date with the “highest court in the country and have so much hope.”
The main points of the case are about ownership and who owns the land.
“Not only the land, but the resources that are on that land, any and every aspect of that land, whether it’s subsurface or not. It’s the right to use those resources and how those resources fund government programs,” Alphonse said.
“We don’t want to live by handouts, we are a level of government and those resources belong to us and we want our rightful share.”
Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett said government’s position has always been that it believes that negotiation is preferable to litigation, but that the government understands the court has decided that this is a matter of national importance.
“For some time, B.C. has been striving to build a strong relationship with the Xeni Gwet’in and the Tsilhqot’in Nation through a number of initiatives including the Tsilhqot’in Framework Agreement,” Barnett said.
“We are proud of that relationship and intend to continue working with the TNG under our government to government agreement.”
As the case is still before the courts, Barnett added to say any more at this time would not be appropriate.
Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson said if the Supreme Court of Canada comes out and recognizes and assigns the title to First Nations and rights according to that title, then basically the court will be doing what government is supposed to do, but has failed to do.
“Remember in B.C. only about a third of First Nations are in treaty and treaty negotiations. Those two thirds, I can guarantee you, if we get a court ruling that starts to resolve the issue of title and assigned rights, you’re now going to have a whole slew of cases,” Simpson said, adding it has massive implications and always has.