Aboriginal leaders opened their meeting with the provincial cabinet Thursday by urging them to resume discussions to recognize aboriginal title instead of dragging out case after case in the courts.
Premier Christy Clark convened the special session in Vancouver Thursday after visiting the Nemiah Valley near Williams Lake, where the Tsilhqot’in Nation established title in a landmark ruling in June. Clark signed a letter of understanding with the Tsilhqot’in to work on implementing the verdict of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling, the first to acknowledge title to a specific area of what was considered Crown land.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs told the gathering in Vancouver that Clark’s “public platitudes” echo those of former premier Gordon Campbell in 2009 when he proposed legislation to recognize title province-wide.
That proposal caused the B.C. Business Council to “set its hair on fire” and issue “an inflammatory legal opinion” that derailed the effort, Phillip said.
In fact it was B.C. aboriginal leaders who voted the proposal down four months after it was pulled from the legislature on the eve of the 2009 B.C. election.
Grand Chief Ed John of the First Nations Summit recounted federal and provincial efforts to thwart land claims cases, from prohibiting aboriginal people from hiring lawyers in the 1920s to the tactics used in the 2007 Tsilhqot’in trial.
That trial ran for 339 days in B.C. Supreme Court, after 10 pre-trial motions by federal and provincial lawyers trying to have the case thrown out on technical grounds, John said. When that failed, Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William, the named plaintiff, was made to testify for 46 days and none of his testimony was used by government lawyers after that, he said.
Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad said the Tsilqot’in letter of understanding is a commitment to redress issues of the past, including the “wrongful trial and hanging of the Tsilhqot’in chiefs in 1864-65.”