səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), and Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Territories (Vancouver, B.C.) – Supporters rallied outside the B.C. Supreme Courthouse in Vancouver as the Nuchatlaht First Nation returned to court. This marks the beginning of closing arguments in Nuchatlaht’s groundbreaking title case, which has been fraught with hypocritical arguments from the B.C. government’s lawyers.
“IT’S BEEN A LONG BATTLE but it’s for a good reason. These people next to me, this is why we fight,” said Nuchatlaht Tyee Ha’wilth Jordan Michael alongside Nuchatlaht Nation citizens on the steps of the B.C. Supreme Courthouse. “Here we are. We’re not going anywhere.”
Nuchatlaht are taking British Columbia to court in order to reclaim part of their traditional territory on Nootka Island, and their leaders are working to restore their stewardship of the area after decades of mismanagement. Nuchatlaht and provincial lawyers are set to make closing arguments over the coming weeks. After Nuchatlaht filed their claim in January 2017, the trial began on March 21, 2022, with 40 days of evidence heard by the court before breaking in late May to draft final arguments. Evidence in support of the Nuchatlaht included submissions from some of the leading archaeologists and anthropologists in the country.
“We’re here today for solutions. We’re here for recognition. Today we’re here to prove that my Tyee Ha’wilth and our ancestors used every square inch of our territories. And then the province has the nerve to say we abandoned our land,” said Nuchatlaht House Speaker Archie Little. “We’re a very proud people. We’re a very strong people. We know who we are. And we’re going to stand up for what we believe in.”
Nuchatlaht are anticipating what a favourable ruling would mean to the future of their hahoulthe (territory) and community. Despite years of failed treaty negotiations and distasteful litigation conduct, Nuchatlaht are again calling on leaders in the provincial government to amend their approach to the Title case and support Nuchatlaht’s vision for the future of its territory.
“We’re here to prove our inherent rights for land and title. We have proven who we are and where we come from, and we’re not going anywhere,” said Nuchatlaht Councillor Melissa Jack. “We’re fighting not just for ourselves but for everybody.”
Despite the B.C. government’s distasteful and time-consuming strategy, Nuchatlaht are optimistic about their odds of success and plans to advance critical work for the people and the land. A final decision is expected to be handed down by the B.C. Supreme Court by early 2023. Reclaiming Title to Nootka Island will enable the Nuchatlaht Nation to pursue an ambitious vision for the future of Nuchatlaht people.
The B.C. government has directed its lawyers to advance multiple arguments against Nuchatlaht that are in contravention of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) and the province’s legislation upholding it. Those arguments include that the Nuchatlaht have no substantial connection to their territory, were too small to hold title, and did not utilize inland resources. The province is also arguing that should the Nuchatlaht lose, they should pay the province’s legal fees. It’s a surprising threat given the government's commitments to reconciliation and own conduct which extended the length of the trial.
Crown lawyers received direction on Nuchatlaht’s Title Case from former attorney general David Eby, who recently resigned his position to run for leader of the B.C. NDP and become the next premier of British Columbia. Nuchatlaht called on Eby repeatedly before and during the trial to amend directions to Crown lawyers in fighting Nuchatlaht’s case, to be consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and his government’s own commitments.
As Eby seeks the role of premier, Nuchatlaht is again calling on him and his government to end its adversarial approach to Nuchatlaht’s Title case, recommit to advancing reconciliation with First Nations in keeping with UNDRIP, and ending the hypocritical approach to his own government’s issued directives and policies. Leadership in this case means supporting Nuchatlaht’s Title and vision for a just, abundant, and sustainable future — one that upholds Nuchatlaht’s management of its own territory for the wellbeing of the people and land.
For more on the Nuchatlaht’s case see this report by Judith Lavoie.
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