Chief Wah tah K’eght (Henry Alfred) speaks (Michael Grace-Dacosta)

VIDEOS and PHOTOS: 20th anniversary of the Delgamuukw/Gisday’wa court decision celebrated

Chiefs and elders from different houses spoke at the feast discussing their memories of the case.

The Laksilyu clan hosted a celebration feast Saturday in Hagwilget in honour of the 20th anniversary of the Delgamuukw/Gisday’wa court decision.

In 1984, the hereditary chiefs of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en first nations filed a joint land title action with the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The trial began in 1987.

During the trial, Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en elders used oral histories as evidence of their claim. In 1991, Justice Allan McEachern ruled any title the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en may have had was extinguished when British Columbia joined the Confederation.

The Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en appealed McEachern’s ruling to the Court of Appeal of British Columbia.

While the appeal decision ruled the government is required to consult with Indigenous peoples before they begin any projects that may infringe upon their rights, they ultimately agreed with McEachern that the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en did not have title to the land in question in 1993.

After treaty negotiations broke down with the Province the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled the provincial government did not have the right to extinguish the Indigenous peoples’ rights to their ancestral territories. The court also recognized oral history as a legitimate form of evidence in legal proceedings.

The case also gave a definition to aboriginal title and outlined how it can be determined. Aboriginal title is defined as Indigenous peoples’ exclusive right to the land, and is recognized as an “existing aboriginal right” in section 35 of the Constitution Act.

“[The case] proved to the world we exist,” said Chief Na’Moks (John Ridsdale) of the Wet’suwet’en. “We as human beings, we as nations, have a right to have a voice.”

Chiefs and elders from different houses spoke at the feast discussing their memories of the case as well as the importance of continuing to fight for their rights. Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach also spoke at the event.

Chiefs enter Hagwilget hall

“It was a real honour to be invited to the event and to bare witness to the celebration,” said Bachrach. “Obviously the Delgamuukw/Gisday’wa court case was a monumental event, not just for the Wet’suwet’en and the Gitxsan, but for first nations across Canada. It was a big leap forward for aboriginal law in Canada.”

Gordon Christie, professor at Peter A. Allard School of Law, said the Delgamuukw case laid the ground work for other first nations to claim aboriginal title in their territory.

“The first of those was Tsilhqot’in nation just a couple years ago,” said Christie, who specializes in aborginal law. “They were the first to actually use aboriginal title the way the court set out in Delgamuukw.”

In 2014, the Tsilhqot’in nation became the first Indigenous nation to get aboriginal title. The Supreme Court of Canada awarded them just over 1,700 kilometres of land in British Columbia.

“Now after that, that was 2014, you have quite a wave of aboriginal title cases going on across the province,” said Christie. “I think there’s now at least dozen, probably more like 15, cases on aboriginal title now.”

Thanks to the Delgamuukw case future generations of first nations people have a chance to reclaim their ancestral territory, which is exactly what the last living plaintiff in the case, Chief Wah tah K’eght (Henry Alfred) envisioned when he agreed to testify in court all those years ago.

“I made up my mind [I’m not going] to court for myself,” said Wah tah K’eght. “It’s for my grandchildren great grandchildren to come. It’s for them.”

MP Nathan Cullen statement in Parliament on Delgamuukw court decision’s 20th anniversary

 

Locals perform a song (Michael Grace-Dacosta)

High Chiefs table (Michael Grace-Dacosta)

House logos. Michael Grace-Dacosta photo

This server needed a break (Michael Grace-Dacosta)

Locals listen attentively. Michael Grace-Dacosta photo

Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach attends the feast. Michael Grace-Dacosta photo

Just Posted

100 Mile House remembers

Residents of 100 Mile House honour the country’s veterans

B.C. Legions in need of young members to continue aiding veterans into the future

Lest we forget what thousands of men and women did to fight for Canada’s freedoms – but without new membership, many Legion chapters face dwindling numbers

North Coast figure skater to star in Dancing On Ice

Carlotta Edwards learned to skate in Prince Rupert, before becoming a star with millions of viewers

Stanley Cup contenders

A weekly sports column for the 100 Mile Free Press

VIDEO: Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee dies

Marvel co-creator was well-known for making cameo appearances in superhero movies

VIDEO: Newcomer kids see first Canadian snowfall

Children arrived in Canada with their mother and two siblings last week from Eritrea

Calgary 2026 leader expects close vote in Winter Games plebiscite

Residents to choose in a non-binding vote on Tuesday whether they want city to bid on 2026 Olympics

Feds dropped ball with WWI anniversary tributes: historians

Wrote one historian: ‘Other than the Vimy Ridge celebration … I think they have done a very bad job’

Sides ‘far apart’ in Canada Post talks despite mediation, says union

The lack of a breakthrough means rotating strikes will resume Tuesday

Feds’ appeal of solitary confinement decision in B.C. to be heard

Judge ruled in January that indefinite such confinement is unconstitutional, causes permanent harm

B.C. health care payroll tax approved, takes effect Jan. 1

Employers calculating cost, including property taxes increases

Nunavut urges new plan to deal with too many polar bears

Territory recommends a proposal that contradicts much of conventional scientific thinking

Shelter struggles: Landlord takes over rental unit whenever visiting B.C. town

Renter’s story highlights how hard it is to find accommodation in Revelstoke

Most Read