MAC: Mines and Communities

Canadian First Nation wins aboriginal title claim in Supreme Court ruling

Published by MAC on 2014-06-27
Source: CBC News, APTN News, Mining News, statement (2014-06-27)

"Historic judgment" hailed

Canada's Supreme Court has accepted a First Nation's land claim, in a verdict which has wide-ranging implications for aboriginal Peoples rights throughout the country.

It has granted the British Colombia Tsilhqot'in Nation title to a large area which lies outside its actual reserve - some 1,700 square kilometres.

The ruling also entitles the Tsilhqot'in Nation to enforce free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) before any economic activity takes place on their territory - unless the government deems the development to be "pressing and substantial" and meeting its "fiduciary duty to the aboriginal group"

For earlier story on the First Nation's struggle against Taseko Mines, see: Canada: First Nations declare victory against Taseko's B.C. mine

Tsilhqot'in First Nation granted B.C. title claim in Supreme Court ruling

CBC News

26 June 2014

The Supreme Court of Canada has granted declaration of aboriginal title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in British Columbia to the Tsilhqot'in First Nation, the first time the court has made such a ruling regarding aboriginal land.

The unanimous 8-0 decision released Thursday resolves many important legal questions, such as how to determine aboriginal title and whether provincial laws apply to those lands. It will apply wherever there are outstanding land claims.

The decision, written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, also has implications for future economic or resource development on First Nations lands.

'It only took 150 years, but we look forward to a much brighter future. This without question will establish a solid platform for genuine reconciliation to take place in British Columbia.'- Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs

The case focused on the Tsilhqot'in First Nation's claim to aboriginal title over 440,000 hectares of land to the south and west of Williams Lake in the B.C. Interior.​

A B.C. Court of Appeal ruling in 2012 gave the Tsilhqot'in sweeping rights to hunt, trap and trade in its traditional territory. But the Court of Appeal agreed with the federal and provincial governments that the Tsilhqot'in must identify specific sites where its people once lived, rather than assert a claim over a broad area.

The Tsilhqot'in, a collection of six aboriginal bands that include about 3,000 people, argued the court's decision failed to recognize the way its people had lived for centuries.

The court heard the Tsilhqot'in people were "semi-nomadic," with few permanent encampments, even though they saw the area as their own and protected it from outsiders.

Establishes meaning of title

In its decision, Canada's top court agreed that a semi-nomadic tribe can claim land title even if it uses it only some of the time, and set out a three-point test to determine land titles, considering:

The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized the Tsilhqot'in First Nation's aboriginal title over a wide area to the south and west of B.C.'s Williams Lake, which it considers its traditional territory. (CBC)

The court also established what title means, including the right to the benefits associated with the land and the right to use it, enjoy it and profit from it.

However, the court declared that title is not absolute, meaning economic development can still proceed on land where title is established as long as one of two conditions is met:

* Economic development on land where title is established has the consent of the First Nation.
* Failing that, the government must make the case that development is pressing and substantial, and meet its fiduciary duty to the aboriginal group.

In other words, the decision places a greater burden on governments to justify economic development on aboriginal land.

The court also makes it clear that provincial law still applies to land over which aboriginal title has been declared, subject to constitutional limits.

'Absolutely electrifying'

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, was with Chief Roger William, who brought the case, and other Tsilhqot'in chiefs when they learned of the top court's decision, and said the mood in the room was "absolutely electrifying."

"We all heard the decision at the same moment, and the room just erupted in cheers and tears. Everybody is absolutely jubilant. It's very emotional," Phillip told CBC News.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs smiles during a news conference in Vancouver, after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Tsilhqot'in First Nation, granting it land title to 438,000 hectares of land. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

"It only took 150 years, but we look forward to a much brighter future. This, without question, will establish a solid platform for genuine reconciliation to take place in British Columbia.

"I didn't think it would be so definitive," Phillip added. "I was actually prepared for something much less. It's not very often that I'm without words, and I'm quite overwhelmed at the moment."
Future pipelines?

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said in a statement Thursday that the government will review the "complex and significant issues" in the decision.

"Our government believes that the best way to resolve outstanding aboriginal rights and title claims is through negotiated settlements that balance the interests of all Canadians," Valcourt said in the statement, adding that the government has concluded four treaties in B.C. since 2006, with others under negotiation.

NDP critic Jean Crowder welcomed the ruling and said the governments at both levels have for too long taken the chance that aboriginal title would never be recognized in going ahead with development.

"Now, all levels of government will need to stop and consider whether or not they've met the duty to consult or justified an infringement. Governments will have to meet this obligation so development can continue, with First Nations determining how to use the land, not third-parties, to the benefit of many Canadians," Crowder said in a statement.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said in a post on Twitter, "We remain committed to partnering with aboriginal communities, based on inherent & treaty rights, to build a better future for all Canadians."

B.C. Attorney General and Justice Minister Suzanne Anton​ said today's decision "provides additional certainty around processes and tests that are applied to the relationship between the province and aboriginal peoples."

What today's ruling will mean for future pipelines is unclear, but one expert said it's likely this decision will be used by First Nations fighting the Enbridge pipeline in court.

"The pipeline is going through many, many First Nations who have already declared that they do not want the Enbridge pipeline going through their territories, and this decision strengthens their rights to preserve their traditional territories," said Antonia Mills, a First Nations studies professor at the University of Northern B.C.


First Nations 'ecstatic' over historic Supreme Court ruling

Aboriginal people across Canada celebrate Tsilhqot'in First Nation's win in Supreme Court ruling

By Connie Walker

CBC News

26 June 2014

It's being hailed as a significant victory for First Nations, and aboriginal people across the country are celebrating today's Supreme Court of Canada decision granting title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in B.C. to the Tsilhqot'in First Nation.

"This decision is such a huge, most important decision that I've been a part of." said Tsilhqot'in First Nation Chief Roger William.

William and other B.C. leaders were together in a boardroom in Vancouver when they heard the news.

"I was completely surprised. I can tell you this whole room erupted in cheers and tears after this long hard struggle." said Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

The unanimous ruling grants the Tsilhqot'in Nation title to a large area outside its reserve. It covers 1,700 square kilometres of land the group has traditionally used.

"This decision ... will be a game-changer in terms of the landscape in British Columbia and throughout the rest of the country." -Jody Wilson-Raybould, Assembly of First Nations regional chief

The Tsilhqot'n First Nation has been fighting the case for more than two decades.

As soon as the decision was announced, speculation began about how it would affect other First Nations across the country.

"This decision building on previous Supreme Court of Canada decisions will be a game-changer in terms of the landscape in British Columbia and throughout the rest of the country where there is un-extinguished aboriginal title." said Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould.

"Just because the Supreme Court of Canada has issued this claim doesn't mean that the government is going to start giving all the land back to the aboriginal people." said Métis lawyer Garth Walbridge.

"But it could have a serious economic impact. The size of the boulder that Enbridge is rolling up the hill to get their pipeline built just got much bigger today, because the First Nations in that part of the country now have much much bigger say in whether or not Enbridge can go ahead."

Mi'kmaq lawyer Pam Palmater said this decision provides important clarification over what having aboriginal title means and how it will affect resource development projects.

"The aboriginal group in question has the exclusive authority to decide who uses that land and who benefits from that land and, as a result, provincial laws don't apply."

Chief Glenn Hudson of the Peguis First Nation said the Supreme Court ruling will have implications for First Nations in Manitoba.

"In Manitoba specifically, we're talking about hydro developments - I know Bipole III, as far as the dams in the north, flooding that is occurring in our traditional lands," he said.

"They need to come and sit with us to ensure that these negative impacts are addressed when it comes to our communities."

In a statement, AFN acting spokesman Ghislain Picard said, "The court has clearly sent a message that the Crown must take aboriginal title seriously and reconcile with First Nations honourably. This decision will no doubt go down in history as one of the most important and far reaching ever rendered by the Supreme Court of Canada."


Tsilhqot'in Nation Welcomes Recognition of Full Aboriginal Title for the First time in Canadian History

Tsilhqot'in Nation press statement

26 June 2014

Vancouver, BC - The Tsilhqot'in Nation welcomes the Supreme Court of Canada's decision overruling the BC Court of Appeal's judgment on Aboriginal title. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the 2007 ruling of the BC Supreme Court and declared Aboriginal title to approximately 2000 km2 in the heart of the Tsilhqot'in homeland, in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region of British Columbia.

The Supreme Court of Canada's ruling ends a long history of denial and sets the stage of recognition of Aboriginal title in its full form. Rejecting the BC Court of Appeal's impoverished view of title as specific, intensely used sites is a step towards true and lasting reconciliation for all First Nations. The Tsilhqot'in Nation has worked tirelessly with many organizations to make this a reality.

"We take this time to join hands and celebrate a new relationship with Canada. We are reminded of our elders who are no longer with us. First and foremost we need to say sechanalyagh (thank you) to our Tsilhqot'in Elders, many of whom testified courageously in the courts. We are completing this journey for them and our youth. Our strength comes from those who surround us, those who celebrate with us, those who drum with us" said Plaintiff, Chief Roger William of Xeni Gwet'in.

Xeni Gwet'in Chief William states, "First Nations across this country have taken legal action, entered into treaty, practiced their language and demonstrated use of the land and through this they have supported us - we thank you. Non-First Nation organizations and First Nation organizations are adamant in helping us and we are grateful. We are especially grateful for the support we received from our neighbors, the non-Aboriginal residents and businesses in the title area, who intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada to say that they welcomed a declaration of Aboriginal title. These organizations have been interveners and in general support - sechanalyagh."

"Under our own laws and teachings there is no question that these are our lands. This is the end of denying rights and title. We met the legal test in 2007 and that should have been the end of it. This decision will bring much needed certainty for First Nations, government and industry. This case is about us regaining our independence - to be able to govern our own Nation and rely on the natural resources of our land. We are ready to move forward in this new relationship with government and industry. That work starts today" said Chief Joe Alphonse, Tl'etinqox Government, Tsilhqot'in National Government Tribal Chairman.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs stated "amazing, absolutely amazing! Thank you Tsilhqot'in for your courageous leadership, temerity and relentless tenacity! The Supreme Court of Canada completely repudiated the greatly impoverished and highly prejudicial positions of the BC and Federal governments which formed the basis of the BC Court of Appeal decision. As parties supporting the Tsilhqot'in in this case, we worked collectively to ensure the Supreme Court of Canada would understand that recognizing Indigenous Title and Rights do not diminish Canadian society, it enriches it. Let us celebrate this momentous and historical victory!"

BCAFN Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould stated, "This decision is a game changer. The court has clearly sent a message that the Crown must take Aboriginal title seriously and reconcile with First Nations honourably." She continued, "The decision is an opportunity to truly settle, once and for all, the land question in BC - where our Nations are not simply making claims to the Crown under an outdated federal policy but where there must be true reconciliation based on recognition and where the outcome of negotiations is certain. On behalf of the First Nations in British Columbia, heartfelt congratulations to the Tsilhqot'in people."

This decision needs to be acknowledged as a positive step forward in reconciliation between the government and First Nations. Resolving Aboriginal title reduces conflict, creates the opportunity for respectful relations and ends an era of denial. We stand in solidarity with all other First Nations and Indigenous people globally in the necessity of resolving land claims and moving forward.

Media Contact:
Chief Roger William: (250) 267-6593
Chief Joe Alphonse: (250) 305-8282
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip: (250) 490-5314


Canada's Supreme Court grants aboriginal land claims

Cecilia Jamasmie

Mining.com

26 June 2014

In what is considered the most important aboriginal rights case in Canada's history, the country's Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the

The decision, written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, also has implications for future economic or resource development on First Nations lands.

This is the first time the country's high court acknowledges an aboriginal's title to a specific tract of land - a landmark decision with major implications for controversial energy projects, such as Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

Thursday's 8-0 decision, which overturned an appeal court ruling, will essentially make it easier for First Nations to negotiate modern treaties or to fight for their land rights in court.

The decision, written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, also makes clear that economic development on title land can continue - either with consent, or if there is no accord when the Crown has proven that the project has a "compelling and substantial" public interest.

Aboriginal leaders and politicians immediately described the decision as the mark of an epic shift in Canada-First Nations relations, and a signal the government is pushing local authorities to take treaty negotiations more seriously.

It is a "game changer", said Jody Wilson-Raybould, regional B.C. chief of the Assembly of First Nations: "While many questions remain about how aboriginal title will be governed. The first decision on aboriginal title by Canadian court provides great hope that true recognition is possible."

Justin Trudeau, leader of Canada's Liberal Party, was one of the first politicians to welcome the verdict: "We welcome today's ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada."

He added his party remains "committed to partnering with Aboriginal communities, based on inherent and treaty rights, to build a better future for all Canadians."

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said in a statement Thursday that the government would review the "complex and significant issues" in the decision.

"Our government believes that the best way to resolve outstanding Aboriginal rights and title claims is through negotiated settlements that balance the interests of all Canadians," Valcourt said in the statement, adding that the government has concluded four treaties in B.C. since 2006, with others under negotiation.


Proposed resource projects west of Rockies need 'time-out'

Supreme Court ruling in favour of First Nations means seismic shifts in resources landscape

By Bill Gallagher

CBC News

28 June 2014

The masterly-crafted ruling penned by the Chief Justice, released Thursday by the Supreme Court of Canada, lays out the evolution of aboriginal rights law from one side of the country to the other. The implications for resource development are extensive.

Before Thursday's game-changing ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada, imbuing the Tsilhqot'in Nation with Aboriginal title to their homelands in central British Columbia, the following passage represented the last word in this matter from the B.C. Court of Appeal, foreshadowing the legal reality now at hand.

"It is also, however, of particular importance to the economy of the province, given the continued importance of resource industries, which operate, for the most part, on lands that are subject to title claims by First Nations," read the Court of Appeal ruling.

The SCOC ruling arrived mere days after the Northern Gateway Pipeline received cabinet approval.

In fact, it's the 10th resource decision in B.C. since the Eyford Report was presented to the Prime Minister some six months ago.

In that compressed time span, natives have won eight out of those 10, including injunctions, forestry, mining, fishing, land use plans, reserve additions, legal costs and aboriginal title.

Legal precedents, key excerpts

The legal precedents are plenty, highly consistent and very compelling, such that this latest outcome should take no one by surprise. Here are key excerpts once Aboriginal title is recognized:

[70] ... In simple terms, the title holders have the right to the benefits associated with the land - to use it, enjoy it and profit from its economic development.
[76] The right to control the land conferred by Aboriginal title means that governments and others seeking to use the land must obtain the consent of the Aboriginal title holders.

These legal concepts apply only to the Tsilhoqot'in homelands, but the court's logic will soon be brought to bear throughout other regions that mirror the factual on-the-ground situation: a) all of B.C. west of the Rockies b) eastern and central Quebec c) the Maritimes. (Land ownership has yet to be settled by treaty in these regions.)

This is the overwrought legal landscape awaiting pipeline proponents, hydro projects and the extractive industries who, in my opinion, have completely failed to properly weigh the legal clout wielded by B.C. First Nations.

That's because project proponents are programmed to forge ahead, their lawyers showing the way in regulatory proceedings, their financial officers assuring analysts that it's still business-as-usual. Nothing could be further from the truth!

This is not the time for project proponents to take the native empowerment movement for granted.

This game-changing aboriginal title ruling will now serve as a rallying point, with organizers ready to pounce on lead projects that have the temerity to proceed as if nothing of significance has transpired.

There's also a major alignment already in place between natives and eco-activists.

I'm recommending the provincial and federal governments together call for a six month "time-out" on proposed resource projects west of the Rockies and take this time to regroup and assess what moves towards reconciliation are in the national interest.

I believe resource proponents who barge ahead in the current environment (the climax of native empowerment) will be unwittingly "telegraphing" the message to native and eco-activist strategists that they are blind to the historic shifts playing out in B.C.'s resource landscape.

Thus, a business-as-usual approach may well put these projects in peril.

Better to dedicate six months to diplomacy, based upon the legal winning streak that natives have earned.

Both industry and government have a lot of catching up to do after years of denial.


SCOC title claim decision could apply to large parts of Quebec, expert says

James O'Reilly, aboriginal-rights lawyer, says First Nations could claim land in most of northern Quebec

CBC News

26 June 2014

A veteran aboriginal-rights lawyer says this morning's Supreme Court of Canada decision could be applied to two-fifths of the Quebec's territory.

"I think [this decision] has wide-sweeping consequences for virtually every set of negotiations with aboriginal nations in Quebec," said lawyer James O'Reilly, who has argued for the rights of First Nations in Quebec for 50 years.

In a unanimous decision, Canada's highest court ruled First Nations have a measure of control over their ancestral lands.

The Supreme Court of Canada agreed that a semi-nomadic tribe can claim land title even if it uses it only some of the time, and set out a three-point test to determine land titles, considering:

O'Reilly said the decision lays out exclusive rights on land that First Nations have used, and still use for traditional purposes such as hunting and fishing.

He said that will likely rule out most developed parts of the province, but will still leave a lot:

"Fairly close to two-fifths of Quebec, actually, in my view. Certainly all of the Quebec North Shore, extending from the Saguenay River right up to the Labrador coast."

O'Reilly said there are about nine groups in Quebec involved in land claim negotiations and this decision could encourage more bands to assert their rights.

Quebec's minister of Aboriginal Affairs Geoff Kelley agreed that Thursday's landmark decision from the Supreme Court will affect Quebec.

"It's a judgment dealing with a case in B.C., but there will be consequences for Quebec so the government will have to look at it quite carefully," Kelley said.

Ghislain Picard, the chief of the Quebec Assembly of First Nations, said the high court's ruling will give bands more leverage during negotiations over the development of natural resources:

"To me, it presents yet a challenge, but what is more clear today is that the onus finally falls in the hands of government," Picard said, adding that the federal and provincial governments will be forced to do more than politely consult First Nations.


"Tears and cheers" greet historic Supreme Court ruling handing Tsilhqot'in major victory

APTN National News

26 June 2014

OTTAWA - The Supreme Court of Canada has granted a declaration of Aboriginal title to the Tsilhqot'in over 1,750 square kilometres of territory in a historic ruling handed down Thursday.

This is the first time the high court has ever granted a declaration of Aboriginal title to a First Nation. The ruling also acknowledges Indigenous nations can claim occupancy and control over vast swaths of land beyond specific settlement sites, provides more clarity on Aboriginal title and sets out the parameters for government "incursion" into land under Aboriginal title.

The ruling also hands a final victory to the Tsilhqot'in Nation, which encompasses six communities with a population of about 3,000 people, over British Columbia in a long-running battle, which included blockades, over logging permits in their claimed territory.

"I would allow the appeal and grant a declaration of Aboriginal title over the area at issue, as requested by the Tsilhqot'in," said the unanimous ruling, written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin. "I further declare that British Columbia breached its duty to consult owed to the Tsilhqot'in through its land use planning and forestry authorization."

British Columbia and Ottawa both opposed the Tsilhqot'in claim to title.

The Supreme Court blasted the B.C. Court of Appeal, which had overturned a lower court ruling on what territory the Tsilhqot'in could claim under Aboriginal title. The high court found the Court of Appeal's definition of occupancy too narrow.

"There is no suggestion in the jurisprudence or scholarship that Aboriginal title is confined to specific village sites or farms, as the court of appeal held," said the ruling. "Rather, a culturally sensitive approach suggests that regular use of territories for hunting, fishing, trapping and foraging is "sufficient" use to ground Aboriginal title."

The high court said that Aboriginal title could be declared over territory "over which the group exercised effective control at the time of assertion of European sovereignty."

Tsilhqot'in claim

Tsilhqot'in Nation Tribal Chair Joe Alphonse called the ruling "amazing" and said it marked the beginning of a "new Canada."

Alphonse said the ruling also sent a message to Canada's political leaders.

"It sends a strong message to all provincial leaders and Stephen Harper to deal with us in an honourable and respectful way," he said.

"It's a game-changer," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

Phillip said the ruling was met by "tears and cheers" from the Tsilhqot'in and other First Nations leaders gathered in a Vancouver boardroom awaiting the Supreme Court's words.

B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said the decision provided "additional certainty around processes and tests that are applied to the relationship between the province and Aboriginal peoples."

Anton said the province would "take the time required to fully analyze it and work with First Nations, industry and all of our stakeholders as we do so."

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said the government would be studying the "complex" ruling.

"Our government believes that the best way to resolve outstanding Aboriginal rights and title claims is through negotiated settlements that balance the interests of all Canadians," said the statement.

NDP Aboriginal affairs critic Jean Crowder said her party welcomed the ruling.

"We finally have a decision that makes it clear that all levels of government must consult with and obtain consent from First Nations with Aboriginal title to their land, because they have the exclusive right to proactively use and manage land that they have title to,' said Crowder.

Liberal Aboriginal affairs critic Carolyn Bennett said the ruling provided much needed clarity.

"The Crown must commit to working in true partnership with Aboriginal communities, based on inherent and treaty rights to build a more prosperous future for all Canadians," said Bennett.

"We are completing this journey"

In the ruling, the Supreme Court laid markers for what established Aboriginal title means.

"Aboriginal title confers ownership rights similar to those associated with fee simple, including: the right to decide how the land will be used; the right to the economic benefits of the land; and the right to pro-actively use and manage the land," said the ruling.

The ruling said Aboriginal title came with an important restriction, that "it is collective title held not only for the present generation, but for all succeeding generations."

Land under Aboriginal title, "cannot be alienated except to the Crown or encumbered in ways that would prevent future generations of the group from using and enjoying it. Nor can the land be developed or misused in a way that would substantially deprive future generations of the benefit of the land."

As a result of the ruling, governments now must meet a set-out standard for "incursions" into land under established Aboriginal title.

"Government incursions not consented to by the title-holding group must be undertaken in accordance with the Crown's procedural duty to consult," said the ruling. "And must also be justified on the basis of a compelling and substantial public interest and must be consistent with the Crown's fiduciary duty to the Aboriginal group."

The Supreme Court found that British Columbia breached its fiduciary duty to consult with the Tsilhqot'in and that it had no economic justification for issuing logging permits in the claimed territory, which sparked the over two-decade battle. The province was argued that it stood to benefit economically from logging in the claimed area and also that it needed to stop the spread of a mountain pine beetle infestation.

"Granting rights to third parties to harvest timber on Tsilhqot'in land is a serious infringement that will not lightly be justified," said the ruling. "Should the government wish to grant such harvesting rights in the future, it will be required to establish that a compelling and substantial objective is furthered by such harvesting, something that was not present in this case."

The legal battle began in December 1989 with a filing by Xeni Gwet'in, but it had simmered since 1983 when the province granted Carrier Lumber Lt. a forest licence to log in the community's claimed territory.

The Tsilhqot'in launched blockades, forcing the province to begin talks which went nowhere after the Xeni Gwet'in claim to a right of first refusal to logging. The long running legal filing was amended in 1998 to include the whole Tsilhqot'in Nation.

The trial finally began in 2002 and ran for 339 days. The trial judge Justice David Vickers travelled to the claim area, heard from elders, historians and experts while also reviewing historical texts, including the diaries of Alexander Mackenzie and Simon Fraser.

Vickers found that the Tsilhqot'in were entitled to a declaration of Aboriginal title to about 40 per cent of their total claimed territory. Vickers did not make a declaration of title on procedural grounds.

The B.C. Court of Appeal then faced the case and held that the Tsilhqot'in had not established title and found the nation could only claim territory were evidence existed of extensive use and occupancy. The Supreme Court eviscerated that position in Thursday's ruling.

"We take this time to join hands and celebrate a new relationship with Canada. We are reminded of our elders who are no longer with us. First and foremost we need to say sechanalyagh (thank you) to our Tsilhqot'in Elders, many of whom testified courageously in the courts, said Xeni Gwet'in Chief Roger William, whose name was used in the original filing. "We are completing this journey for them and our youth. Our strength comes from those who surround us, those who celebrate with us, those who drum with us."

"We meant war, not murder"

During a press conference in Vancouver, some of the Tsilhqot'in leaders referred to the 1864 Chilcotin War that ended in the death of at least 19 European settlers and the hanging of six Tsilhqot'in chiefs.

Back then they faced a planned toll wagon road aimed at connecting the nascent colony's Pacific coast through Bute Inlet to the newly discovered gold fields of Williams Creek, in the B.C. interior.

The project threatened to upend the already besieged Tsilhqot'in people facing their first major outbreak of smallpox, spread in large part by infected blankets sold by traders.

"These white people, they bring blankets from people who die of smallpox," said former Tsilhqot'in chief Henry Solomon, in an oral account of the small pox outbreak contained in a book called Nemiah: The unconquered country, by Terry Glavin.

"Then he wrap them up and he sell them to these Indians, then the Indian, he didn't know, he just sleep on it, them blankets. Pretty soon he got them sickness, and pretty soon the whole camp got it. So pretty soon my grandmother and his sister, they're the only one that survive."

The road work began to cause friction with the Tsilhqot'in, even though some found jobs with the work crews.

There were incidents of road workers raping Tsilhqot'in girls. The Tsilhqot'in who worked with the crews were mistreated and denied food.

Then, in the spring of 1864, four bags of flour were stolen from a road crew's base camp. The crew's foreman threatened the Tsilhqot'in with smallpox for stealing.

Journalist Melvin Rothenburger, who wrote a book called the The Chilcotin War, believes this threat may have helped spark the war.

"That could have been an important factor because of the fear of smallpox and it had been rampant," said Rothenburger, whose great-great grandfather Donald McLean was killed in the ensuing battles with the Tsilhqot'in.

News of the smallpox threat and rapes stirred a group of Tsilhqot'in to launch what turned into a guerrilla war against the settlers. Of this group, a war chief known as Klatsassin or Lhatasassine, meaning "We do not know his name," came to embody the Chilcotin War.

They fired their first shot on the morning of April 28, 1864. It killed a ferryman who refused Klatsassin and his party passage.

The next morning, at daybreak, Klatsassin and his war party descended on the main work crew camp. The cook, tending the fire, was the first to be cut down by gunfire. The Tsilhqot'in then severed the ropes of the tents, shooting and stabbing nine of the crew members to death.

Three managed to escape.

The war party then moved to another camp. There, the foreman who issued the smallpox threat was killed along with three other men.

The Tsilhqot'in used their knowledge of the rugged terrain to their advantage, setting traps, launching ambushes and eluding colonial parties for weeks that had been sent into the bush to track them down.

Rothenburger's greath-great grandfather McLean met his death after falling into a trap set by the Tsilhqot'in. McLean followed a trail of wood shavings carved by the Tsilhoqot'in that led to an ambush. McLean, known to the Tsilhqot'in as Samandlin, wore a breast plate for protection, said Rothenburger.

"The Tsilhqot'in knew about this and set it up so they could get behind him," said Rothenburger.

With the colony ramping up efforts against the guerillas, the Tsilhqot'in sought to negotiate peace. Believing they had been granted immunity, Klatsassin and a group of chiefs travelled to meet with Frederick Seymour, then the governor of the colony of British Columbia.

They were shackled in their sleep and taken prisoner. Klatsassin and four others were convicted of murder. They were hung at 7 a.m. in what is now Quesnel, B.C., on Oct. 26, 1864.

Before he died Klatsassin famously said, "We meant war, not murder."

Two other Tsilhqot'in men also turned themselves in, offering to pay compensation for what they did. They were also arrested and sentenced to death. One managed to escape, but the other man named Ahan, was hung in New Westminster on July 18, 1865.

To this day, the Tsilhqot'in are still trying to recover his remains.

The provincial government apologized for the hangings in 1999.


Tahltan Nation prepare Aboriginal title case against Arctos Coal Mine

Tahltan Central Council

26 June 2014

The Tahltan Central Council has today (June 26, 2014) announced its intention to prepare an Aboriginal title and rights claim against the Province of British Columbia and Fortune Minerals Ltd for the controversial Arctos Anthracite Coal project proposed for Mt. Klappan in the Klappan area of Tahltan territory.The announcement comes following the Supreme Court of Canada's landmark decision in the Tsilqhot'in Nation's Aboriginal title case, which is a major victory for Aboriginal peoples of B.C.

Speaking about the announcement, Tahltan Central Council president Annita McPhee said: "Today is a proud day for the Tsilqhot'in Nation and all First Nations of BC. They have fought a long, hard battle to have their Aboriginal title upheld by the highest Court in the land. This historic ruling re-affirms what the Tahltan people have been saying for over a hundred years; this is our territory, and we have never surrendered our title. The Province and Canada will now have to respect that title and stop unilaterally making decisions without our consent."

The TCC has retained Joseph Arvay, Q.C. of Farris and Co. to lead the litigation case against the Arctos project. He is one of Canada's leading constitutional lawyers, and worked with the Tsilqhot'in during their aboriginal title trial. He also appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada for intervenors on the appeal. "We are thrilled to have Joe on this case," said Ms. McPhee. "He is one of B.C.'s best lawyers, and we look forward to working with him to protect this important area from Fortune's open-pit coal mine. We do not want to go to court, but so far the Province and Fortune have refused to listen to us, and court may be our only option.

"Today's decision makes it clear that B.C. cannot simply push ahead without our consent, and we intend to fight them every step of the way if they persist."

The Arctos Anthracite Coal project is located in a critically important area that requires long-term management and protection to preserve cultural and ecological values for the Tahltan people. Mount Klappan, which is part of an area known as Sacred Headwaters, is a traditional hunting ground and has significant cultural value. It also feeds three of the region's major salmon-bearing rivers – the Skeena, Stikine and Nass. The Tahltan people are united in opposing an open pit coal mine in the area.

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