Manitoba First Nations leaders and experts are applauding a landmark court ruling that gives a British Columbia First Nation title claim over land identified as its traditional territory.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada granted declaration of aboriginal title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in British Columbia to the Tsilhqot'in First Nation.
- Tsilhqot'in First Nation granted B.C. title claim
- First Nations 'ecstatic' over historic Supreme Court ruling
It marks the first time the court has made such a ruling regarding aboriginal land, and it could have impacts on First Nations across Canada, including Manitoba.
"Oh, it was exhilarating, certainly something that has been a long time coming," said Chief Glenn Hudson of the Peguis First Nation.
"I know there's been many court cases and many battles that come under this decision."
The court's unanimous decision resolves many important legal questions, such as how to determine aboriginal title and whether provincial laws apply to those lands. It will apply wherever there are outstanding land claims.
The decision, written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, also has implications for future economic or resource development on First Nations lands.
Manitoba has 63 First Nations, including six of the 20 largest bands in Canada.
Governments need First Nations consent, says expert
"This decision, I think, does support the position that many First Nations people have been taking in [relation] to how the Government of Manitoba and the Government of Canada deals with First Nations people when considering development," said Brenda Gunn, a University of Manitoba law professor specializing in the constitutional and international rights of indigenous peoples.
"It means that the government, then, if they want to do anything that might interfere with that land, the government needs to first talk to First Nations people and get their consent."
Hudson said the Supreme Court ruling means governments must consult with First Nations before going ahead with any development.
"In Manitoba specifically, we're talking about hydro developments — I know Bipole III, as far as the dams in the north, flooding that is occurring in our traditional lands," he said.
"They need to come and sit with us to ensure that these negative impacts are addressed when it comes to our communities."
Could impact Kapyong Barracks dispute
Hudson added that the ruling will benefit his First Nation and the three others fighting the federal government over the future of the Kaypong Barracks in Winnipeg.
- Kapyong Barracks dispute heard in Federal Court of Appeal
- Kapyong Barracks ruling favours First Nations
The Department of National Defence had declared the 159-acre former military site surplus in 2004 after the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry was relocated to CFB Shilo near Brandon, Man.
The federal Treasury Board tried to transfer the land to a Crown corporation known as Canada Lands Co. to oversee the land's redevelopment and resale, but the First Nations went to court to block the move, arguing that officials should have negotiated with them first.
"This decision certainly solidifies our position that we haven't relinquished those lands and certainly we hold undisputed title," Hudson said.
The Supreme Court ruling could also have an impact on the Dakota First Nations in western Manitoba, said Wab Kinew of the University of Winnipeg.
"We saw Sioux Valley has just moved towards self-government and the other Dakota First Nations not being covered by treaty potentially have a claim to aboriginal title," Kinew said.
Hudson said the decision is a win-win situation overall for First Nations, governments and all Canadians in terms of "jobs and employment and certainly revenue generation as far as resource development projects are concerned."