Sunday, November 25, 2007

Recent Aboriginal Title Court Decision in BC

I am going to write an analysis of the Tsilhqot'in ruling from last week in the next day or two. Many cases have been called landmark, but this one has some amazing new directions that the judge has accepted. These are issues that the First Nations have been raising for years and never managed to get the courts to deal with.

For the moment, here is something from the Sun.


B.C., first nation to talk outside courts
Premier and native band leader agree to groundbreaking land negotiations following Supreme Court ruling

Jonathan Fowlie
Vancouver Sun

Saturday, November 24, 2007

VICTORIA - Premier Gordon Campbell and the Tsilhqot'in native band have taken the first major recommendation from this week's landmark B.C. Supreme Court ruling and agreed to begin negotiations outside the courtroom.

Chief Roger William said that in a half-hour meeting with Campbell on Thursday -- about 24 hours after the release of the ruling -- both sides agreed not to appeal for at least four months.

"It gives time for everyone to go through the decision and it also gives us time to put an agenda in place and start working on it," William said on Friday.

"Four months is going to give us enough time to test the waters -- for them and for us," he said.

On Wednesday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice David Vickers released a 473-page ruling that consisted mostly of opinion. In that opinion, he said the Tsilhqot'in had proven aboriginal title over about 2,000 square kilometres of land in B.C.'s Interior, though he could not give it to them because their request included land not covered by that title.

In the end, Justice Vickers strongly urged both parties to negotiate a solution outside the courts.

On Friday, William said he approaches that process with optimism for the fate of his people.

At the same time, however, many of B.C.'s other first nations are looking at the ruling as a way to guide the future of their own negotiations, and possibly their own litigation.

Grand Chief Ed John of the First Nations Summit said all of B.C.'s chiefs had already been invited to a four-day meeting in North Vancouver this coming week, and that the Vickers ruling will be dominant element of those discussions.

"We'll sit down and talk about where we are right now and the dynamics of where we need to go in the future," he said, adding the chiefs will also look at the Tsawwassen and Maa-nulth treaties that have been introduced into the legislature this session.

John was loath to predict the outcome of that four-day meeting, but did say that things need to change.

"The problem we run into is the governments refuse to acknowledge what the courts have said and use that as a foundation for negotiations,
" he said.

"We're going to see more litigation," he added.

"There are 40 more court cases in the works right now, and there may be even more after next week."

Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, went further, saying the focus at the meeting will be to "blast the governments out of their entrenched positions of denial and non-recognition."

"I think you can look forward to a definite mobilization," he said. "There's no question this decision will reverberate through the treaty process.

"In a sense the sun has finally broken through the clouds."

In an interview on Thursday, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Mike de Jong confirmed the government had met with William, but would not reveal any details about what took place.

When asked about the meeting of aboriginal leaders this week, and what the ruling means for the future of the treaty process, he was quick to say it will be a long time before the significance of the ruling is clear.

"What did they get? They got an opinion," he said, pointing out the ruling mostly consisted of non-binding opinion.

"I think we've demonstrated a willingness to adjust to changing circumstance, but I'm not going to predict to you today what the effect of a single opinion from a judge, however lengthy, is going to have or how we are going to respond," he said.

"I do know we are going to keep talking, I do know we are going to keep discussing."

In Ottawa, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Chuck Strahl was equally reserved, with his office releasing the exact same statement on the matter that it did on Wednesday.

"Our government will review this decision and carefully assess its implications and determine what our next steps might be," read the statement.

"We do agree that parties involved in such claims should use discussion and negotiation instead of litigation to resolve these outstanding issues of aboriginal rights and title."

Despite those tepid responses, William said he remains optimistic.

"I believe the premier when he says he respects the decision of first nations. He's going to look at working with us," he said.

"I feel the decision that came down is a tool we can use if the governments are not willing to give what we want," he added.

"We have a tool to force their hands."

And John?

On Thursday, he said that while the effect of the ruling is not yet clear, he has no doubt it will be significant.

"It is an important moment for us," he said.

"We're at a crossroads. Negotiations are at a crossroads in this province right now," he added.

"The government of Canada and the government of B.C. have to change their approach."

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