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

Dry weather leads to historic low water levels in local rivers

The prolonged cold, coupled with the lack of precipitation, has contributed to the situation

Bella Coola businesses still eligible for Wildfire Business Transition Training Program

Small businesses are eligible to apply for reimbursement of training expenses up to $10,000

Bill passes to make Sept. 30 National Day for Truth and Reconciliation statutory holiday

Residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad and CRD Area F director Joan Sorley were in Ottawa for the vote

Wally Webber elected to fourth term as Nuxalk Chief Councilor

Webber took the win with 174 votes out of a total of 389

Bella Coola expected to be hottest spot in B.C. today

Temperatures are predicted to rise to 18 C

Edmonton judge rules Omar Khadr’s sentence has expired

Eight-year sentence imposed in 2010 would have ended last October had Khadr remained in custody

B.C. river cleanup crew finds bag of discarded sex toys

Chilliwack volunteers stumble on unexpected find while removing 600 lbs of trash from riverway

Trudeau sells housing plan in visit to hot real estate market in B.C.

Trudeau said the budget contains measures to help first-time buyers

Norway opens probe into why cruise ship ventured into storm

The Viking Sky was headed for southern Norway when it had engine problems on Saturday afternoon

Fired B.C. farmland commission chair backs NDP rule changes

Richard Bullock agrees with Lana Popham, ALC records don’t

Kamloops chamber of commerce director let go after controversial Facebook posts

Facebook account had derogatory comments about Muslims, Justin Trudeau

B.C. RCMP officer cleared after Taser incident seriously injures woman

Woman with knives refused to comply with orders therefore officer used appropriate level of force

‘Bikinishe’ swimwear retailer prompts Better Business Bureau warning

Watchdog has gotten dozens of complaints about company, which has been using fake Vancouver address

Woman wants Tofino to get a nude beach

“They may enjoy a surf and then walk around naked and just be free.”

Most Read