What are the legalities of aboriginal land claims?

By Gordon Lambie

The ongoing railway blockades and protests across Canada have become well publicized information, but outside of the fact that people, indigenous and otherwise, are saying that they stand in solidarity with the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en people in British Colombia, it can be hard to figure out what is actually going on. Although word came Sunday afternoon that the chiefs and the federal government may have come to an agreement that would help de-escalate the crisis, it’s still worth getting a better sense of just what has been happening. The recent conflict has been based on the Coastal Gaslink natural gas pipeline project and arguments over whether it can pass through traditional Wet’suwet’en lands without the approval of the chiefs, and it dates back to pipeline studies conducted a little over a decade ago. From a legal point of view, however, the conflict can be traced back even further to a 1984 claim by Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs that they had uninterrupted title and jurisdiction over their territories. That claim, now known as Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, was taken to trial in 1987 and that trial lasted until June of 1990. The case was dismissed in early 1991 but appealed in the British Colombia Supreme court in 1993 and then the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997. See full story in the Monday, March 2 edition of The Record.

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