PORT HARDY—Kwakiutl First Nation Chief Coreen Child says the Tsilhqot’in court victory on Thursday, June 26, 2014, proves that Vancouver Island First Nations with Douglas Treaties already demonstrated Aboriginal Title over 160 years ago.
“We are deeply moved by the resolve of the Tsilhqot’in people,” said Chief Child. “The ruling will have far reaching impacts on First Nations and the Crown governments. For Kwakiutl, the Supreme Court of Canada’s declaration reaffirms that the 1851 Douglas Treaty proves Aboriginal title—and that the Government has not lived up to its promises.”
Kwakiutl First Nation intervened on the Tsilhqot’in case to address two fundamental issues—the proper test of Aboriginal title and the application of provincial legislation on Aboriginal title lands.
The Tsilhqot’in win reinforces a BC Supreme Court decision, made on June 17, 2013, which found the Province of British Columbia had breached its legal duties by denying the existence of Kwakiutl’s inherent title & treaty rights. Further, the B.C. decision found that B.C. and Canada had failed to implement and respect the Crown’s 163 year-old Douglas Treaties, and “encouraged and challenged” the governments to begin fair negotiations “without any further litigation, expense or delay.”
“The Supreme Court of Canada rejected the ‘small spots’ strategy argued by Canada and recognized and affirmed that First Nation view of Territorial Title is the basis for engagement with First Nations,” said Councillor Davina Hunt.
Since 2004, the band says, B.C. government has been granting the removal of private lands from Tree Farm licenses located within Kwakiutl territory without Kwakiutl consent. Consequently, businesses, companies and governments have exploited Kwakiutl lands with impunity.
“B.C. forestry decision making is one example of Treaty infringement,” said Councillor Jason Hunt. “In 163 years, the Crown, first as Colony, then as B.C. and Canada, built entire economies on North Vancouver Island without First Nations consent. They have exploited our lands and waters, and marginalized our people.”
The Kwakiutl believe that Crown governments and industry will have to meaningfully engage on a deeper level with respect to Aboriginal title and Treaty when proposing to make decisions or conduct business on First Nations territories.
“The recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling reflects the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) in that a First Nation views and perspectives of Territorial Land Use must be dealt with in all government decisions consistent with free, prior and informed consent,” said Chief Bob Chamberlin, Union of BC Indian Chiefs Vice President. He further stated, “The Federal and Provincial Governments must engage with full recognition of the scope and intent of the Douglas Treaty as the basis of the relationship with the Kwakiutl First Nation.”
Chief Perry Bellegarde, Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief and portfolio holder for Treaties, supports this position. “The Crown has suspended its legal obligations to the Kwakiutl for nearly two centuries. Given that the historic Tsilhqot’in Supreme Court ruling confirms the principle of Aboriginal title, it is essential the Crown fulfills its covenant with the First Peoples of Canada. We strongly urge the federal and provincial governments to act definitively, and act now, in executing their duties to consult and accommodate with First Nations within the intended spirit and intent of Treaties.”