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

GitxsanWet'suwet'en

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

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

COVID-19 cases grow to 13 at B.C. First Nation near Fort St. James

“This is very serious,” says Nak’azdli Whut’en Chief

Directional traffic change coming to one-way street beside McLeod Elementary

This change will be in effect starting Monday, Oct. 5.

Vanderhoof’s Brian Frenkel takes on top job in tough times

We can get through this, new local government leader says

Cullen confirmed as B.C. NDP candidate for Stikine despite party’s equity policy

Former Tahltan Central Government President Annita McPhee said the process made her feel “abused”

CityWest to expand into Vanderhoof

The company will provide internet, TV and phone services over fibre-to-the-home technology

B.C.’s top doctor thanks supporters after revealing threats over COVID-19 measures

Dr. Bonnie Henry says COVID-19 has caused some people to lash out in anger and frustration out of fear

2 British Columbians arrested, 3 at large in massive Alberta drug bust

Eight people are facing 33 charges in what police have dubbed Project Incumbent

Lumber hitting record high prices due to low supply and high demand

B.C.’s forest industry hasn’t been able to keep pace with the COVID-19 building boom

‘Monkey Beach’ supernatural film adaptation premiers at VIFF

Based on Kitamaat author Eden Robinson’s debut, mystical novel

B.C.-born Trybe social media app’s award system connects with Nickelback singer

Rock stars, jet planes, scooter tricks and the creation of a new platform ready for launch

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

PHOTOS: 2nd calf in a month confirmed among Southern Resident killer whale pod

Center for Whale Research said they will eagerly await to observe the calf to evaluate its health

B.C. VOTES 2020: Speculation tax misses speculators, B.C. Liberals say

Andrew Wilkinson, John Horgan clash over housing costs, solutions

A first in the Chilcotin: Tl’etinqox builds six-unit Elders complex

“It’s exciting,” says Chief Joe Alphonse

Most Read