A landmark Supreme Court ruling has not come without challenges and uncertainty nearly six years after the declaration of Aboriginal title was granted to the Tsilhqot’in Nation.
“Xeni Gwet’in has made huge sacrifices over the past five years to try and make sure that the declaration of Aboriginal title did not disrupt people’s livelihoods, or access to parks and campsites,” Chief Jimmy Lulua said in a news release.
“We have met extensively with our non-Indigenous neighbours and operators to understand their interests and explain our intentions for the Declared Title Area.”
Lulua and Xeni Gwet’in Council members held a working session with provincial government representatives on Friday, May 29.
The session is being called by both parties as the first in a series of high-level meetings to strengthen partnerships and achieve long-term certainty and clarity for the Tŝilhqot’in Nation, Xeni Gwet’in, residents and businesses about management of the Declared Title Area.
“As the first declaration of Aboriginal title awarded in Canada, the Tŝilhqot’in decision raised unique and complex new questions, and there is no question that over the past six years this has been a challenging transition in uncharted waters for all of us,” said Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, Scott Fraser.
Longtime rancher and business owner of Rafter 25 Ranch and Pasture to Plate Natural Products, Felix Schellenberg has said appeals for area ranchers to be included in the negotiations have been ignored by the provincial and federal governments.
As well, guide outfitters in the area have voiced concern and frustration over being unable to operate in the area.
More than 1,700 square kilometers of land in British Columbia now known as the Declared Title Area is being transitioned to Xeni Gwet’in and the Tsilhqot’in Nation.
Lulua said they hope the working sessions will reflect a true commitment from B.C. to support Xeni Gwet’in as they manage the Declared Title Area and work together to find practical solutions for residents, operators and users.
“But, we are also ready to move beyond these issues to establish the Declared Title Area as a world-class showcase of Indigenous governance, according to our laws, our values and our aspirations as Tŝilhqot’in peoples.”
Bridging agreements which have allowed people with tenures for tourism and ranching operations to continue their business in Declared Title Area until longer term management plans are developed and in place expired on May 31.
A tripartite agreement known as the Gwets’en Nilt’i Pathway Agreement was signed by the Tsilhqot’in Nation and governments of Canada and B.C. in August 2019 to support the Tsilhqot’in Nation in its path to self-determination.
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