British Columbia

Vancouver Island's Nuchatlaht following Tsilhqot'in in land, title claim

The Nuchatlaht First Nation has hired the same legal team that was successful in the 2014 landmark Aboriginal Title Supreme Court of Canada victory for the Tsilhqot’in Nation in Central B.C.

First Nation from West Coast of Vancouver Island files Aboriginal land and title case in B.C. Supreme Court

Members of the Nuchatlaht First Nation gather on the steps of the B.C. Supreme Court on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, after filing a land title case. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

A First Nation on Vancouver Island says it has filed a case in B.C. Supreme Court to officially recognize its right and title to traditional lands.

The Nuchatlaht First Nation has also hired the same legal team which represented the Tsilhqot'in Nation — from Central B.C. — in 2014, when it was granted Aboriginal title. It's the first time the court made such a ruling regarding Aboriginal title.

Archie Little, who speaks for the Nuchatlaht First Nation, says the title claim is for the Nation's next generations. "That they enjoy the natural resources, you know, the benefits that we have and to be owners and be managers and to share that wealth with everyone." (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

"The management schemes of today is all economically driven, which we don't believe in," said Archie Little, a member of the Nuchatlaht First Nation, on Friday. "We have to manage first so everybody can benefit — this is not just for Nuchatlaht but ... that everybody can benefit."

The traditional lands for the Nuchatlaht, one of several bands belonging to the Nuu-chah-nult, are along the northwest coast of the island near Tahsis and Zeballos, B.C.

This map depicts the traditional lands of the Nuchatlaht First Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island B.C.
This map depicts the traditional lands of the Nuchaltaht First Nation on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, B.C. (Nuchatlaht First Nation)

The nation says is wants to gain official ownership of the lands and the resources that come with it, such as fish and forests. 

They claim over the past 150 years commercial interests in the region have, "enriched corporations, but adversely impacted Nuchatlaht sacred land and food sources."

Jack Woodward represents the Nuchatlaht and said this case is historic.

"It's historic because this is the first application of the Tsilhqot'in decision," he said.

He said there are several other First Nations working on similar civil claims, but this is the first one to come up since the 2014 case which ruled a semi-nomadic tribe can claim land title even if it uses the land only some of the time.

Jack Woodward is representing the Nuchatlaht First Nation. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

The 2014 decision also set out a three-point test to determine land titles and established what title means — which places a greater burden on government to justify economic development on Aboriginal land.

"They are entitled under Canadian under Canadian law to inherit the lands that their grandparents owned and this is simply a claim to enforce that," said Woodward of his new clients, describing the community as impoverished.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, who featured prominently is supportive of the Nuchatlaht case.

Meanwhile, Little said he expects the claim to be successful and that it will help other nations file their own cases.

"We want the world to look at us because we've always governed ourselves this way," he said.

with files from Tristan Le Rudulier.