Jan 31/98: BCTC in disarray after Delgamuukw ruling


Vancouver Sun
January 31, 1998, p. B7
Stewart Bell

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

Last month's Supreme Court ruling on Indian land rights has thrown BC's four-year-old Indian treaty-making process into disarray, with chiefs from across the province considering new ways to push forward their claims. Six weeks after the court significantly broadened the definition of Indian land rights in its ruling on the Delgamuukw case, BC's top chiefs met behind closed doors in North Vancouver on Friday to come up with a unified strategy on the issue. The chiefs refused to comment on their discussions, but sources said they were considering asking for a moratorium on all development on lands subject to claims.

Also on Friday, a group of chiefs representing six tribes, with 30,000 band members claiming a large chunk of the southern Interior, held a news conference to denounce the treaty process as "illegal" in light of the court ruling. The appeals by the Indian groups come just days after the BC Treaty Commission also warned the federal and provincial governments the treaty process must change to reflect the court ruling. The First Nations Summit, BC's top aboriginal group, will discuss the issue today at a meeting with Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Cashore.

In a Dec. 11 ruling on the Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en land claim in north central BC, the Supreme Court defined Aboriginal land rights as being more far-reaching than ever before. The court said the province cannot extinguish aboriginal title and that native Indians have broad land rights, including the right to have a say - or even a veto - in Crown land-use decisions. Since then, government and tribal officials have been trying to figure out what it means and how it could affect land claims. Two tribes - Sechelt and Tsay Keh Dene - have decided to take their land claims to court, leading to fears other bands may abandon treaty negotiations in favour of litigation.

Six other large tribes are calling for the end of the BC Treaty Commission. They claim the commission is no longer needed because the courts have already recognized that Indians own their ancestral lands. "The BC Treaty Commission is an illegal process," Shuswap Nation tribal chairman Arthur Manuel told reporters in Vancouver. Manuel wants Ottawa to suspend the treaty process and instead begin "nation to nation" negotiations with Indian tribes. The majority of the tribes, represented by the First Nations Summit, want to continue treaty talks, but are planning to demand major changes to bring them in line with the court judgment.

"The Supreme Court decision of Dec. 11 is already having a major impact on the BC treaty process," said Alec Robertson, head of the BC Treaty Commission [Robertson is a former director of Daishowa Forest Products and a senior partner of law firm Davis & Co -- S.I.S.I.S.], which referees land claim talks. "It's not business as usual." Robertson said government and tribal officials must sit down together and decide how to modify the treaty process. "what is needed is political commitment. Canada, BC and the First Nations Summit must take the lead in working toward that reconciliation." After six weeks of studying the Delgamuukw ruling, the federal and provincial governments have yet to indicate how they intend to respond.

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Full text of December 11, 1997 ruling:

Index of Delgamuukw/Gitksan articles, analysis, and commentary:

Background information on Delgamuukw case:

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