Roger William’s reaction to the B.C. Court of Appeal decision on the William Case last week is mixed.
“I think in a sense we feel that we have title and are certainly disappointed, but at the same time the appeal did uphold our rights, which is very strong. In that sense I’m very happy,” said William, one of the three plaintiffs. The other two who appealed the case are the provincial and federal governments.
Regarding title, William said the judge ruled that he didn’t feel that an overall territorial title was warranted in the case.
“We won’t be going to the Supreme Court of Canada pushing for site specific rights,” William said. “The Tsilhqot’in understanding of title is title for the whole area. There’s no place in the country or the world that has title to specific areas. You can look up any country and see that they don’t have title that is site specific; they have title to a whole area and they have a boundary.”
William said First Nations have tried treaties, but they have been broken, and court cases seem to be the only option.
“Certainly it is status quo in terms of the Judge Vicker’s decision where we feel and understand that our declaration of rights to hunt, to trade, to trap and use wild horses means that Canada and B.C. have to prove to us that they will not infringe on those aboriginal rights to those areas.”
William said as he listened to the ruling he was thinking about the elders and children in his community. Some of the members from his community who testified are no longer alive.
His mood changed from being disappointed to feeling things could have been worse.
“What about trade. What about horses? That still remains. The ruling hands down lots of protection and issues that we can work on,” he said.
Tlet’inqox (Anaham) Chief Joe Alphonse said the William case and subsequent appeal have been a long fight for the Tsilhqot’in Nation.
“Since 1992, we’ve been struggling with this issue, but the verdict in the court of appeal today upheld our rights and access to resources on our traditional lands,” Alphonse said Wednesday.
One area he says is weak is the ruling around recognized title.
“We’re describing it as a postage stamp approach. As Tsilhqot’in we recognize having ownership to the whole territory, not bits and pieces. It opens the door to take that specific issue and challenge to the Supreme Court of Canada.”
By right, Alphonse says he thinks an issue that large should go to the Supreme Court of Canada. It’s an issue that all First Nations across Canada are struggling and fighting with.
And if it’s overruled there, the implications will be felt all across the country, not just in B.C. Alphonse says, adding there’s still work to do to push the issue.
“We’ll continue to digest the ruling step by step and make appropriate decisions at the appropriate time.”