The head of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations says Thursday’s Supreme Court decision granting a B.C. First Nation title over 1,700 square kilometres of land is a major victory for all Aboriginal people.
The Canadian top court’s unanimous decision will have far reaching effects on how Aboriginal title is established in Canada and will apply wherever there are outstanding land claims.
The historic case revolves around the Tsilhqot’in First Nation’s claim to Aboriginal title over a large area of land in B.C.’s interior.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court says a semi-nomadic tribe can claim land title even if it uses an area only some of the time.
The court ruling also places a greater onus on governments to gain the consent of First Nations before pursuing economic development on lands where Aboriginal title has been established.
FSIN Chief Perry Bellegarde says the ruling means no longer can both governments and corporations move ahead with economic development on traditional lands without first consulting with Indigenous stakeholders.
“What it means is you cannot unilaterally plow ahead,” he says. “You cannot unilaterally move ahead without recognition of Aboriginal rights and title. You’ve got to get First Nations people to the table.”
Bellegarde adds he hopes governments will not drag their feet but instead follow the lead set by the Supreme Court in this major ruling.
“You have the judicial branch sayings something very clearly that the Indigenous peoples have rights and titles and not just on reserves but throughout their traditional territories and ancestral lands. So that should be a signal to the legislative side of government and executive, that they have to start amending their policies and laws to get in line with what their judicial branch is saying.”
The Chief Roger William court decision follows close to three decades of legal wrangling.