Doing the right thing
I attended a celebration two weeks ago of a ruling from BC Supreme Court Justice David Vickers that the Tsilhqot’in First Nation collectively holds aboriginal title to some 200,000 of the 440,000 hectares that make up their traditional territory in BC’s central interior. As one of the chiefs said, “We’ve been upgraded from occupant to owner. “
It took them 18 years of legal action, including a 339-day trial, to get that ruling and it doesn’t mean they’ll get the land. They still have to negotiate. Chief Roger William, plaintiff in the court case, told us he met with BC Premier Gordon Campbell and suggested that both sides declare a four month truce on further legal action to give the government time to “do the right thing.”
On the same day, chiefs from the Maa-nulth First Nations on
Moving to BC has raised my awareness of native land issues. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why so many public gatherings in Victoria open with “Let us thank the Songhees People on whose land we stand.” I had lived only in
What I really want to say is what’s happening in BC gives me a smidgen of optimism for the future of some of the natural world. Pushed into the role of defenders of the land — most Tsilhqot’in, for example, make their living by hunting, trapping and fishing — First Nations people are seen as more sensitive to the environment. If they hadn’t been colonized, would they have been just as rapacious as we are? We’ll never know. What we do know is this: the Vickers ruling imposes upon the government a greater obligation, from a public opinion point of view, to deal fairly with First Nations.
The ruling says land use decisions about such areas as forestry and mining cannot proceed without consultation and agreement from First Nations communities. And that aboriginal rights include maintaining the habitat for the wildlife they depend on. If we clear-cut, there are no animals left to trap. Speaking at the celebration, Tsilhqot’in legal advisor Jack Woodward said the decision has implications for First Nations people all across Canada and could protect the entire boreal forest of Canada — one of the three largest ‘frontier forests’ remaining on the planet. (The other two are in
It would be wonderful if the country that voted against aboriginal rights in the U.N. declared a moratorium on exploiting aboriginal land. Do you believe in Tinker Bell?
Left to right, Chief Roger William, Chief Ervin Charleyboy and Chief Ivor Myers of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation at the celebration of a landmark ruling in their favour. Chief Charleyboy’s comment on First Nations having to get justice from Canadian lawyers and judges: “It’s like asking a thief to make a judgment on his own theft.” (Photo by Tim Linday)