In a landmark ruling on Thursday with potential implications for the planned Northern Gateway pipeline, Canada’s Supreme Court unanimously granted an aboriginal land title to the Tsilhqot’in First Nation, giving them claim to more than 1,700 square kilometers in British Columbia.
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“British Columbia breached its duty to consult owed to the Tsilhqot’in through its land use planning and forestry authorizations,” the 81-page decision (pdf) states.
“I didn’t think it would be so definitive,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. “I was actually prepared for something much less.”
The decision rejected the narrow view of what qualified for protection under aboriginal rights from a 2012 ruling by the B.C. Court of Appeal. While the lower court had said aboriginal groups must be able to prove intensive historical use of a specific site, Thursday’s decision accepts a broader set of criteria particularly important for the Tsilhqot’in, a historically “semi-nomadic” people. Indigenous groups must now prove a looser definition of occupation, continuity of habitation on the land, and exclusivity in an area in order to be granted a title.
“It only took 150 years, but we look forward to a much brighter future,” said Chief Phillip. “This without question will establish a solid platform for genuine reconciliation to take place in British Columbia.”
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