The Supreme Court of Canada ruled today that governments must consult First Nations about the use of crown land and accommodate their interests, even before First Nations prove their title.
The decision was the end of a 10-year legal journey started when the Council of the Haida Nation complained that the province had not consulted it before renewing Tree Farm Licence 39, which then belonged to MacMillan Bloedel.
“This case is about the old growth forest of Haida Gwaii, protecting the land and the ecosystem,” said Haida Nation lawyer Terri-Lynn Williams Davidson at a press conference this morning in Vancouver. “We are turning the page on a new era in our historyÂ… The Haida are ready to take the next step, together with the province, to carve out our collective future.”
Ms Williams Davidson said the Haida people have grown increasingly frustrated at the pace of industrial logging on the islands. Industry has taken 14 million cubic metres of timber in the past 20 years from TFL 39, which covers a huge chunk of Graham Island, she said. This timber was worth approximately $1.4-billion.
“Clearly, this is logging that is beyond the ability of the land to sustain itself, let alone Haida culture,” she said.
The Supreme Court decision says that government must consult with aboriginal people and accommodate their interests.
“The stakes are huge,” the decision reads. “The Haida argue that absent consultation and accommodation, they will win their title but find themselves deprived of forests that are vital to their economy and their culture. Forests take generations to mature, they point out, and old-growth forests can never be replaced.”
Haida Nation lawyer Louise Mandell said the decision is a “title wave” washing away the remnants of colonialism in Canada.
“Today is a good day for all of us,” she said. “What the Supreme Court of Canada has done is create some space for something new to happenÂ… It’s about accommodation, it’s about reconciliation.”
Chief Doug Kelly of the First Nations Summit congratulated the Council of the Haida Nation for pursuing the court case, to the benefit of all First Nations.
“Through their diligence and hard work we’ve reached a decision,” he said. “There is no place in Canada or British Columbia for the willful infringement of our aboriginal rights and title.”
Dave Porter of the First Nations task group also spoke at the press conference, offering congratulations to the Haida Nation and its legal team “for their tremendous victory here today.”
The decision means that governments will have to bargain in good faith, will have to listen, and that there must be change, Mr. Porter said.
But Haida Nation president Guujaaw said the victory will be hollow unless First Nations follow up with hard work. He also said it was “troublesome” that it takes the Supreme Court of Canada to get the provincial government to act with honour towards aboriginal people, as it is supposed to act.
“We can be sure the victory won’t be known unless we go out there and get it,” he said. “It’s in our handsÂ… Our people have got to go our do the work necessary to make this come to life.”
Asked a question about support from the Canadian public, Guujaaw responded that the most important Canadians to the Haida Nation are the people who live here on the islands.
More to comeÂ…
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