Chief Wah tah K’eght (Henry Alfred) speaks (Michael Grace-Dacosta)

VIDEOS and PHOTOS: 20th anniversary of the Delgamuukw/Gisday’wa court decision celebrated

Chiefs and elders from different houses spoke at the feast discussing their memories of the case.

The Laksilyu clan hosted a celebration feast Saturday in Hagwilget in honour of the 20th anniversary of the Delgamuukw/Gisday’wa court decision.

In 1984, the hereditary chiefs of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en first nations filed a joint land title action with the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The trial began in 1987.

During the trial, Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en elders used oral histories as evidence of their claim. In 1991, Justice Allan McEachern ruled any title the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en may have had was extinguished when British Columbia joined the Confederation.

The Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en appealed McEachern’s ruling to the Court of Appeal of British Columbia.

While the appeal decision ruled the government is required to consult with Indigenous peoples before they begin any projects that may infringe upon their rights, they ultimately agreed with McEachern that the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en did not have title to the land in question in 1993.

After treaty negotiations broke down with the Province the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled the provincial government did not have the right to extinguish the Indigenous peoples’ rights to their ancestral territories. The court also recognized oral history as a legitimate form of evidence in legal proceedings.

The case also gave a definition to aboriginal title and outlined how it can be determined. Aboriginal title is defined as Indigenous peoples’ exclusive right to the land, and is recognized as an “existing aboriginal right” in section 35 of the Constitution Act.

“[The case] proved to the world we exist,” said Chief Na’Moks (John Ridsdale) of the Wet’suwet’en. “We as human beings, we as nations, have a right to have a voice.”

Chiefs and elders from different houses spoke at the feast discussing their memories of the case as well as the importance of continuing to fight for their rights. Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach also spoke at the event.

Chiefs enter Hagwilget hall

“It was a real honour to be invited to the event and to bare witness to the celebration,” said Bachrach. “Obviously the Delgamuukw/Gisday’wa court case was a monumental event, not just for the Wet’suwet’en and the Gitxsan, but for first nations across Canada. It was a big leap forward for aboriginal law in Canada.”

Gordon Christie, professor at Peter A. Allard School of Law, said the Delgamuukw case laid the ground work for other first nations to claim aboriginal title in their territory.

“The first of those was Tsilhqot’in nation just a couple years ago,” said Christie, who specializes in aborginal law. “They were the first to actually use aboriginal title the way the court set out in Delgamuukw.”

In 2014, the Tsilhqot’in nation became the first Indigenous nation to get aboriginal title. The Supreme Court of Canada awarded them just over 1,700 kilometres of land in British Columbia.

“Now after that, that was 2014, you have quite a wave of aboriginal title cases going on across the province,” said Christie. “I think there’s now at least dozen, probably more like 15, cases on aboriginal title now.”

Thanks to the Delgamuukw case future generations of first nations people have a chance to reclaim their ancestral territory, which is exactly what the last living plaintiff in the case, Chief Wah tah K’eght (Henry Alfred) envisioned when he agreed to testify in court all those years ago.

“I made up my mind [I’m not going] to court for myself,” said Wah tah K’eght. “It’s for my grandchildren great grandchildren to come. It’s for them.”

MP Nathan Cullen statement in Parliament on Delgamuukw court decision’s 20th anniversary

 

Locals perform a song (Michael Grace-Dacosta)

High Chiefs table (Michael Grace-Dacosta)

House logos. Michael Grace-Dacosta photo

This server needed a break (Michael Grace-Dacosta)

Locals listen attentively. Michael Grace-Dacosta photo

Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach attends the feast. Michael Grace-Dacosta photo

Just Posted

Province not doing enough for forestry sector, say Liberals

Although Minister of Forests says government working to diversify industry, rural economies

Local company Northern Homecraft wins big at Northern B.C. awards

Vanderhoof company won in two categories for homes built in Fort St. James area

Stolen truck involved in fatal collision on Highway 16

Wednesday’s two-vehicle crash killed one man, 23, and injured two others

UPDATE: West Fraser to permanently reduce production in Quesnel, Fraser Lake

The move will affect 75 employees in Quesnel, 60 in Fraser Lake

Feedback sought on environmental impacts of New Gold’s proposed Blackwater Mine

Public is invited to comment in final round of consultation

Trudeau offers to help Pacific islands face climate change impact

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with the leaders from the Pacific island nations on Saturday during the APEC Summit in Papua New Guinea

Price makes 36 saves as Habs edge Canucks 3-2

Late goal lifts Montreal past Vancouver

BC Minister of Agriculture loses stepson to accidental overdose

Lana Popham announces death of her 23-year-old stepson, Dan Sealey

Canadian military’s template for perfect recruits outdated: Vance

Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of defence staff says that the military has to change because the very nature of warfare is changing, particularly when it comes to cyber-warfare

‘Toxic’ chosen as the Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries

Other top contenders for 2018 include ‘gaslighting’ and ‘techlash’

RCMP bust illegal B.C. cannabis lab

Marijuana may be legal but altering it using chemicals violates the Cannabis Act

Canada defeats Germany 29-10 in repechage, moves step closer to Rugby World Cup

Hong Kong needs a bonus-point win over Canada — scoring four or more tries — while denying the Canadians a bonus point

Avalanche Canada in desperate need of funding

The organization provides avalanche forecasting for an area larger than the United Kingdom

Quesnel fed up with detour, urges Ottawa to speed up road repair

West Fraser Road has been on detour since spring 2018, with no plans to repair washout until 2020

Most Read