Jul 6/98: Kitkatla claims moral victory despite court loss


The Canadian Press
July 6, 1998
Greg Joyce

[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.]

VANCOUVER (CP) - Kitkatla First Nation claimed moral victory Monday after losing a bid to ban logging on B.C. land it claims as traditional territory.

"We feel we won by the fact we were heard," Chief Matthew Hill said after the B.C. Court of Appeal dismissed an application already rejected by B.C. Supreme Court.

"B.C. and other First Nations are aware that our rights do exist."

The Kitkatla, who live near Prince Rupert on the northwest coast, invoked a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision to try to stop International Forest Products from logging old-growth forest.

But the appeal court panel dismissed the application in part because the Kitkatla arent living on the land, an important factor in determining aboriginal title set out by the country's highest court in its Delgamuukw ruling last December.

The Delgamuukw decision - initiated by the Gitksan Wetsuweten in northwestern British Columbia - also expanded the definition and scope of aboriginal rights.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled aboriginal groups that have not signed treaties must be consulted and perhaps compensated in any development taking place on their traditional lands.

Both Hill and company spokesman Rick Slaco said the appeal court emphasized that point in its ruling - negotiation is preferred over litigation.

The decision on Kitkatla gives Interfor a green light to continue logging the area where it has worked since 1985. Logging did not stop during the court applications.

The Kitkatla lost its initial injunction application in B.C. Supreme Court last month. But in her decision, Justice Mary Southin said it may be necessary for an appeal court to rule in light of Delgamuukw.

"The (appeal court) agreed that we had done all we could in terms of consultation," said Slaco.

He said Interfor had always consulted with another First Nation in the area - the Laxkwalaams - but only recently had heard from the Kitkatla, whose land claim overlaps with the Laxkwalaams.

"We talked to the Kitkatla as well but we couldn't agree," said Slaco.

Both are members of the Tsimshian Tribal Council, part of the B.C. Treaty Commission process aimed at reaching treaties for dozens of First Nations in the province.

Kitkatla members have been logging in the area for many years, said Hill, but are opposed to logging practices of many large forestry companies.

"Clear-cutting isn't our way," said Hill.

Slaco suggested the company would use helicopters in future to practise more selective logging methods.

Kitkatla lawyer Jack Woodward said some timber in the disputed area is old-growth cedar that should be protected.

"Theres certainly the possibility of other court cases to protect those old-growth areas," he said.

The Kitkatla are one of eight B.C. bands that have launched court action based on Delgamuukw to stop resource development.

There are likely various reasons for going to court seeking clarification of Delgamuukw, said Peter Smith, a spokesman for the Aboriginal Affairs Ministry.

"Kitkatla was about consultation," Smith said from Victoria. "Sechelt have filed seeking a declaration of aboriginal title."

The common denominator is Delgamuukw, he said, but the rulings sought "may be many and varied."

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