Today’s announcement of a unanimous 8-0 ruling by The Supreme Court of Canada in favor of the Tsilhqot’in first nations land claim appeal – nothing less than astonishing. Aboriginal leaders wept, overwhelmed by the unexpected victory ending a decades old dispute.
The ruling settled aboriginal claim to 440,00 hectares of land near Williams Lake in the B.C. interior. Tsilhqot’in First Nations people took a 2012 B.C. Court of Appeal decision (one giving rights to hunt,trap and trade in traditional territory provided they name specific places their people once lived) to the Supreme Court, arguing their people were “semi-nomadic” and the Court of Appeal decision ignored centuries old tradition.
The decision written by Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin recognized semi-nomadic land claim titles, removing “continuous occupation” as a requirement, giving First Nations people the legal right to use and profit from traditional lands. In future, this decision will apply to all disputed Aboriginal land titles. A three point test will be used to determine claims – occupation, continuity of habitation of the land and exclusivity in the area.
The second part of the decision heralds truly momentous changes in terms of economic development. As of today, mining, logging, pipeline construction – not so fast, you have some explaining to do. Cool your jets, satisfy one of the two following conditions, or take your project someplace else. For the first time in history, aboriginal people must give “consent” to development of traditional lands. No consent? You can take a run at the second rule – plead your case to the government, convince them of the dire, pressing and substantial importance of your plans to become even wealthier. As of today the government has a legal obligation to justify development on aboriginal land, but who knows – you might get lucky.
Kudos Supreme Court of Canada, congratulations Tsilhqot’in and all First Nations people, condolences Enbridge, suck it up resource sector. The high court has spoken – ponder the enormity of a decision not only righting historical wrongs, but taking steps to protect our environment from the pillage of a greedy few.