VICTORIA, BC — On Tuesday October 14, 2014, five First Nations from northeastern BC will finally have their day in court at the Victoria Courthouse. Nine years ago, West Moberly, Halfway, Saulteau, Prophet River and Doig River First Nations filed their claim in the BC Supreme Court. They seek a declaration that the western boundary of Treaty No. 8, a historic treaty first signed between Canada and the First Nations in 1899, lies along the Continental Divide within British Columbia. Canada supports the First Nations’ claim. The Province does not. The trial is expected to run for over 5 months. The court has described the controversy as something that has “festered for over one hundred years”.
“We just want to know where we can exercise our rights,” says Roland Willson, Chief of the West Moberly First Nations. The Treaty recognizes various land use rights for the signatory First Nations. Canada and the First Nations have always understood that these rights exist throughout the Treaty territory, including over a large area of northern BC, from the BC/Alberta border west to the Continental Divide, including the Rocky Mountain Trench. However, British Columbia says that the Treaty territory ends at the Rocky Mountains. “The Treaty preserves our right to hunt, fish and carry on our traditional way of life – BC wants to reduce that sacred promise to a small corner of our Treaty territory”, says Chief Nathan Parenteau of Saulteau First Nations. At stake is access to over 100,000 square kilometres of land. As Chief Darlene Hunter of Halfway River explains, “Our people went back and forth over the mountains all the time in the old days, to hunt, to marry, to see relatives.” According to Chief Lynette Tsakoza of Prophet River First Nation, there is a practical concern over the Province’s refusal to recognize the extent of the Treaty territory. “Our members don’t want to be arrested by BC when they go hunting in their Treaty territory west of the Rocky Mountains.”
“I really don’t know why BC is forcing us to prove our Treaty territory in court – the Province isn’t even a party to Treaty 8″, says Chief Norman Davis of Doig River First Nation. The Chiefs and Councillors from the five Treaty 8 First Nations will be outside the Victoria courthouse at 9:15 am Tuesday October 14. Accompanying them will be traditional Dunne-za drummers from Doig River First Nation, to announce the first day of this long-awaited historic trial. The Trial is expected to run until the end of March 2015.
For more information, please call:
Chief Roland Willson, West Moberly First Nations
Christopher Devlin, Legal Counsel
Devlin Gailus Westaway, Victoria BC
Allisun Rana, Legal Counsel
Rana Law, Calgary AB