British Columbia·TOP STORIES 2014

Tsilhqot'in First Nation wins landmark B.C. title claim

A landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision confirmed aboriginal title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in B.C., setting a precedent for future claims throughout the country.

Supreme Court ruling recognizes First Nation title off-reserve, setting precedent for future claims

Chief Roger William, right, of the Xeni Gwet'in First Nation, is flanked by chiefs and other officials as he pauses while speaking during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C. in June 2014, after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the Tsilhqot'in First Nation, granting it land title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

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A landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision confirmed aboriginal title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in British Columbia for the Tsilhqot'in First Nation in June, setting a precedent for future claims of aboriginal rights and title throughout the country.

The ruling marks the first time in the history of Canada that aboriginal title was confirmed outside of a First Nations reserve.

The case was launched in the early 1990s, when the Tsilhqot'in first began using the courts and a blockade to stop logging operations in the area. 

The First Nation argued that, because the Tsilhqot'in are a semi-nomadic tribe, they had claim to title on land to the south and west of Williams Lake in the B.C. Interior.​

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, right, of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, listens as Chief Roger William speaks. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The court set out a three-point test to determine claim to title. It included occupation, continuity of habitation on the land and exclusivity in the area.

However, the court ruled title is not absolute, and development can still go ahead with consent of the First Nation or if the government is able to make the case that development is pressing and substantial, and meet its fiduciary duty to the aboriginal group.

The decision calls into question the future of development projects, including the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which has been controversial among B.C. First Nations.

"I truly believe a rising tide carries all boats," said Grand Chief Stuart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

"In that regard we have an opportunity to participate in the economic future of this province as equal partners."

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