Out in the Open

American says he has right to hunt in Canada

Rick Desautel is fighting to get back onto what he considers his ancestral land
Rick Desautel, centre left with arms crossed, stands in front of the Nelson courthouse with members of the Colville Confederated Tribes, awaiting the start of a hearing into the existence of the Sinixt First Nation. (Bob Keating/CBC)

Rick Desautel has been hunting in Southeastern British Columbia for nearly 30 years.

"For me, hunting where my ancestors hunted, I feel like I'm going back to my roots."

The thing is, Rick doesn't live in B.C. He's American, born and raised in Washington State, not far from the Canadian border.

But Rick is a member of the Sinixt First Nation, a tribe that lived in Southern B.C. before white settlers arrived. In the 1800s, Rick's ancestors ended up on the American side of the border, and became part of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington.

"My ancestors, they never decided to have a border. They moved freely back and forth wherever they wanted to, they were a nomadic people."

In the 1950s, the Sinixt were declared extinct in Canada and struck from the Indian Act. Now, Rick wants back in. He was in a B.C. courtroom last fall, arguing that he has traditional hunting rights in the province.

He went to court to fight the charges of hunting without a license and hunting as a non-resident.

"This is something I'm doing for recognition here in Canada, for my children, for my grandchildren, for my future grandchildren [so] I can lead them to their roots and let them know where they came from."

He also hopes to get some protection for historical sites on his ancestors' land.

"People have no idea what they are. To them they're just a depression in the ground. They don't know it was a pit house at one time where my ancestors lived.

"They don't know that those drawings on the rocks are pictographs that my great-great-ancestors put there for a reason. It's not graffiti, it's communications between people and tribes."

The decision in Rick's case is expected in March.