The Western Boundary issue is very important to Treaty 8 as it involves the amount of traditional land rightfully available to Treaty 8 members. The original treaty, signed in 1899, shows the western boundary to the west of the Rockies, west of McLeod Lake. This is the federally recognized boundary. However, about 15 years ago, the province, along with certain bands near the boundary, applied to the courts to nullify some of our territory. This remains an ongoing legal issue. Specifically, their application seeks to take away around 40% of our treaty land entitlement areas. It therefore greatly impacts our treaty rights.
Treaty rights and Aboriginal rights are different: Aboriginal rights can be exercised within the member’s own traditional land. Treaty rights include rights to areas used for hunting, fishing, cultural activities and burial grounds within all of Treaty 8. Wherever a Treaty 8 member is in Treaty 8 territory, he or she has rights within the whole territory, not just his or her own traditional land. So treaty rights give members a bigger area to live their way of life.
In 1899, when the original treaty was signed, Treaty 8 members were nomadic hunters and gatherers. They went wherever the berries or the herds were. The original boundary in this treaty did not decrease their land entitlement, as that would be taking away almost half of their entitlement to hunt, fish, and gather. Further, the province’s application seeks to take away the undeveloped land and leave Treaty 8 with the overdeveloped land.
We are already adversely affected from issues around hunting. One Treaty 8 Chief summed it up really well. He is nearly 50 and has never hunted caribou in his own territory because some of the herds are on the verge of extinction and the area is overdeveloped.