Supreme Court of Canada to hear landmark Tsilhqot'in Aboriginal title case

TŜILHQOT'IN TERRITORY, BC, Jan. 24, 2013 /CNW/ - The Supreme Court of Canada announced today that it will hear the Tsilhqot'in Nation's landmark Aboriginal title claim, a decision welcomed by the Tsilhqot'in Nation and its members.

"We are truly grateful for the many Tsilhqot'in Elders that showed the courage to share their knowledge at trial, in our Tsilhqot'in language," said Councillor Roger William, the plaintiff in the case, "Many of them are no longer with us today. They would be proud and honoured to know that their case will be heard by the highest court in Canada."

This is the latest stage in a court battle sparked over two decades ago when Tsilhqot'in communities took to blockades and the courts to halt plans for clear-cut logging in the heart of Tsilhqot'in territory, in south central British Columbia.  After five years and over 300 days of trial, the B.C. Supreme Court found in favour of the Tsilhqot'in Nation in November 2007, declaring Aboriginal hunting, trapping and trade rights throughout the entire claimed area, and striking down the forestry plans.  The B.C. Supreme Court also held that the Tsilhqot'in Nation had proven Aboriginal title - something akin to ownership rights - to approximately 40% of this remote, wilderness area.

In June 2012, the B.C. Court of Appeal fully confirmed the Aboriginal hunting, trapping and trade rights of the Tsilhqot'in people and barred wide-scale industrial logging in the region.

However, the Court of Appeal also set aside the trial judge's findings of Aboriginal title, holding that Aboriginal title can be established only to specific, intensively used sites, and not the core hunting and trapping grounds that were exclusively controlled and used by the Tsilhqot'in, year after year, to sustain their communities.

"We never gave up our rights or title and further proved our Aboriginal rights and stopped forestry in that critical part of our homeland.  That is something to celebrate," said Marilyn Baptiste, Chief of Xeni Gwet'in.  "But this is not complete for our people. At the Supreme Court, we will continue to tackle the most important issue for us and for ALL First Nations - our Aboriginal title to the land".

This landmark case promises to be historic.  First Nations across Canada denounced the Court of Appeal's judgment on Aboriginal title as outdated and discriminatory.

"For us, the Court of Appeal denied the legitimacy of our laws, our ways of life, who we are as Tsilhqot'in people," said Chief Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chairman and Chief of Tl'etinqox-t'in community, "We're grateful to have the opportunity to present to the Supreme Court of Canada a different path to reconciliation. And we are honoured to stand with the support of First Nations across British Columbia and Canada.  Together, our voices will be heard at last".

SOURCE: Tsilhqot'in National Government

For further information:

Media Contacts:
Chief Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chairman    Cell: (250) 305-8282 
Chief Marilyn Baptiste, Chief - Xeni Gwet'in Cell: (250) 267-1401 
Councillor Roger William, Plaintiff   Cell: (250) 267-6593
David Rosenberg, Legal Counsel   Cell: (604) 562 6714 Work: (604) 879 4505