B.C. First Nation wins landmark land claim case at Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Canada building in Ottawa, Ont. (JOHN MAJOR/QMI AGENCY, file)

The Supreme Court of Canada building in Ottawa, Ont. (JOHN MAJOR/QMI AGENCY, file)

Jessica Hume, National Bureau

, Last Updated: 6:58 AM ET

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court's ruling in favour of a B.C. First Nation on Thursday, in a decades-old land claim dispute, is widely expected to give Native communities more influence in major resource development projects going forward.

The unanimous decision grants title over a 1,750-square-kilometre region to the Tsilhqot'in Nation and gives the community control over what development takes place there.

This is the first time the Supreme Court has recognized an aboriginal title claim to a specific piece of land. Title claims involve land for which there is no treaty — land that was never ceded.

Reacting to the decision Thursday, Tsilhqot'in Nation Chief Roger William said "once the first people of this country have title, then only good things are going to come."

"We have come from our land, we come from our people, from our history," he said. "We are part of the land."

Aboriginal title isn't absolute, but the ruling means agriculture, forestry, mining, and hydroelectric or pipeline development proposed for the area will require consent from the Tsilhqot'in Nation.

In the absence of consent from First Nations, a company or government hoping to operate on the land would have to demonstrate they meet conditions, specifically "to show that it discharged its procedural duty to consult and accommodate; that its actions were backed by a compelling and substantial objective and that the government action is consistent with the Crown's fiduciary obligation to the group," Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote.


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