One of B.C.’s most influential First Nations leaders is challenging the conventional wisdom that a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling on aboriginal land title is bad news for big businesses.
“I see this decision as providing required clarity and the rules of the game,” said Jody Wilson-Raybould, regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations. “I think it’s an opportunity. First Nations want to be a part of resource development where resource development will benefit them and won’t infringe on their lands.”
The June 26 decision in the case of B.C.’s Tsilhqot’in Nation settled long-standing questions concerning geographic areas to which First Nations groups hold recognized title. On matters of natural-resource development projects, such as the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, the court found there should be a requirement of consent, as opposed to consultation.
In a June 26 media release, the B.C. government similarly praised the court’s decision for providing clarity on issues concerning the land of First Nations peoples.
“The decision provides additional certainty around processes and tests that are applied to the relationship between the Province and Aboriginal peoples,” said Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton in the release. “We believe this is the right approach as it enables First Nations to fully participate in economic development.”
Bill Gallagher has followed aboriginal court challenges in Canada since the early 1980s. On the phone from Ontario, he told the Straight that he counts the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s victory in the case over the government of British Columbia as First Nations’ win number 195.
“This ruling is an expression of the culmination of the rise of Native empowerment,” the lawyer and author said. Gallagher explained that the Tsilhqot’in decision has “provided clarity” and “crystallized” issues that have been debated and appealed in many previous cases.
“This is the capstone ruling,” he said. “They have written this case up in such a legally bulletproof fashion that it is a masterpiece of aboriginal-law jurisprudence.”
Gallagher argued that stakeholders, including corporations, should therefore view the Tsilhqot’in decision as a “liberating experience”.
“They now at least know what is expected of them: to address First Nations one on one, to extend a hand of corporate friendship,” he said.
Gallagher predicted the days of industry relying on government to settle disputes with First Nations will become a thing of the past. “They’ll have to now go out and bring First Nations on as partners,” he said.