First Nation lawyer says goal of BC land claim case is reconciliation

VANCOUVER — A lawyer for the Nuchatlaht First Nation, which is fighting for title to part of Nootka Island in British Columbia, told a court the underlying goal of the proceedings was reconciliation.

Jack Woodward said at the start of his closing argument that the province missed its chance and instead placed « the burden of reconciliation squarely on the court » in the first test of the landmark 2014 Tsilhqot’ Aboriginal title ruling. in by the Supreme Court of Canada.

This case recognized the rights and title of the Tsilhqot’in Nation to a swath of its traditional territory in the central interior of British Columbia, not just the historic village sites.

« The province presents the court with a stark choice: dismissal or declaration. No alternative was presented, » Woodward told the court Tuesday.

« I’m beckoning the province for this because it was certainly within their control and power to help design and adapt a process that would have put the court in a less binary position. »

Nuchatlaht First Nation lawsuit filed in BC Supreme Court in 2017 claims BC and federal governments denied Nuchatlaht rights by allowing logging and “effectively dispossessing” the nation of territory on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The BC government denies that the Nuchatlaht hold aboriginal title to the 230 square kilometer area, which includes the northwest portion of Nootka Island. The province said it has met its obligations under the nation’s agreements regarding forest resources.

Crown attorney Jeff Echols previously argued in March that ‘modern’ Nuchatlaht draws its membership from a broader Indigenous base, and that the First Nation isn’t the only one using the island. when the Crown asserted sovereignty over what is now British Columbia. 1846.

He said the case law has established that aboriginal title is not transferable and that the legal test would not allow modern Nuchatlaht to take title from other historic aboriginal groups whose members joined or merged with them.

But Woodward said Tuesday that the Nuchatlaht occupied and used the claimed area before and during 1846.

He said the Nuchatlaht had a « magnificent advantage » in the matter, in that « not only were there the various local groups occupying all of their respective territories, but they were organized into a confederation ».

« It’s a remarkable fact, » he said. « I think that’s the crux of the matter. »

He also argued that the Nuchatlaht showed restraint in their claim, saying it did not overlap with any land or federal territory of another First Nation.

“A First Nation that comes to court with a reasonable, moderate, and clean claim provides an opportunity for reconciliation,” Woodward said.

Supporters of the claim gathered outside the Vancouver court complex before the start of oral arguments. Among them was Erick Michael, a member of the Nuchatlaht council.

« We are here to fight for our past and future generations so that we can have a healthy and strong future, » he told the crowd.

Mariah Charleson, vice president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, which represents 14 communities including Nuchatlaht, said she took to the steps of the courthouse to show her support in their « fight against British British ».

« This is a case that will set a precedent for how British Columbia deals with the land issue. ‘Land Back’ is a real thing. It restores inherent jurisdiction in land rights title to original landowners and the Nuchatlaht set the precedent,” she said.

The closing arguments come about five months after the province announced the development of a « new approach to litigation » as part of its process of implementing legislation in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This included 20 directions for the Crown to prioritize resolution and negotiated settlement, while reducing the potential for litigation over Indigenous rights and title.

In an April court transcript, provided by Nuchatlaht’s legal team, Crown Attorney Echols said the province was aware of the guidelines before they were issued and did not intend to adjust its arguments for the trial.

At the time, Woodward said the government’s decision not to adjust the case based on its own new litigation guidelines « undermines the reconciliation process. »

Hearings are scheduled to continue until October 14.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 27, 2022.

Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press


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