Vancouver: In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s claim to aboriginal title over the Nemiah Valley.
For centuries the Tsilhqot’in Nation, a semi-nomadic grouping of six bands sharing common culture and history, have lived in a remote valley bounded by rivers and mountains in central British Columbia. It is one of hundreds of indigenous groups in B.C. with unresolved land claims. In 1983, B.C. granted a commercial logging license on land considered by the Tsilhqot’in to be part of their traditional territory. The band objected and sought a declaration prohibiting commercial logging on the land. Talks with the province reached an impasse and the original land claim was amended to include a claim for Aboriginal title to the land at issue on behalf of all Tsilhqot’in people. The federal and provincial governments opposed the title claim. The Supreme Court of British Columbia held that occupation was established for the purpose of proving title by showing regular and exclusive use of sites or territory within the claim area, as well as to a small area outside that area. Applying a narrower test based on site-specific occupation requiring proof that the Aboriginal group’s ancestors intensively used a definite tract of land with reasonably defined boundaries at the time of European sovereignty, the British Columbia Court of Appeal held that the Tsilhqot’in claim to title had not been established.The Supreme Court held the appeal that a declaration of Aboriginal title over the area requested should be granted. A declaration that British Columbia breached its duty to consult owed to the Tsilhqot’in Nation should also be granted.