A bus loaded with elders and leaders from Xeni Gwet’in (Nemiah) will makes its way across the country arriving in time for the William rights and title case being heard in the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on Nov. 7.
“We’ve done all these steps to fight and protect our rights and title as a nation,” Xeni Gwet’in chief Roger William said, adding the importance of the William case cannot be overestimated because it raises one of the most central issues of indigenous rights that exist in Canada.
“The question of the land rights First Nations hold today over the lands they controlled before the Crown asserted sovereignty is central, and the way this question is answered will determine the place of First Nations in Canadian society, the extent to which they will control their own future and the shape of Crown-First Nations relations for decades to come.”
“This case is an important opportunity to take concrete steps forward toward reconciliation in this country,” said AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo in May. “Respect and recognition is the basis of opportunity and successful partnerships required to build a stronger sustainable future for First Nations and all Canadians.”
There have been nine judges, several intervenors, and lots of back and forth between the provincial and federal governments since July, William said.
The court case is in William’s name. He said he’s been involved with it right from the beginning. Back in 1989 his elders predicted the case would end up at the Supreme Court.
It was at that time the Xeni Gwet’in declared that nothing would happen without their involvement — no commercial mining, no commercial logging.
Their decision led to court cases, road blocks, attempted negotiations and agreements with government, because they realized they had to back up the declaration, he added.
As the court date draws close, William said he thinks often of the elders who testified in court but have passed on today.
“I’m not even thinking about the ultimate outcome and decision, but more about the enormous sacrifices Xeni Gwet’in elders and members made to protect 80 per cent of our caretaker area inside the Chilcotin.”
Final details for the bus trip are not finalized, however it is hoped the bus will depart on Oct. 30, making stops in each province to meet with local residents.
The stops will provide an opportunity to introduce community members who testified in the court case between 2002 and 2007, William said.
It’s going to be a week-long title case trip for one day in court, he chuckled.