The Law Courts building in Vancouver, which houses the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. The B.C. Supreme Court has upheld an American Indigenous man’s right to hunt this side of the border.
The ruling came after the judge found that the man’s citizenship carried less weight in the matter than the traditional territory of his people.
Richard Desautel was charged with hunting without a licence and hunting without being a resident under the Wildlife Act, after shooting and killing a cow elk near Castlegar, B.C. in 2010.
Desautel is not Canadian. However, he is a member of the Lakes Tribe of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington State, and lives on the Colville Indian Reserve.
In March, a provincial court judge accepted Desautel’s defence that he was exercising his right to hunt for ceremonial purposes.
The Crown appealed that ruling, arguing that due to his citizenship, Desautel could not be considered an Aboriginal person of Canada.
But in a ruling delivered Thursday, the B.C. Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling.
It ruled the U.S. Lakes Tribe descended from the Sinixt people, who were declared “extinct” by the Canadian federal government in 1956.
The Sinixt traditional territory included an area surrounding the Arrow Lakes in B.C.’s Kootenay region, and covered mostly land that lies in what is present-day Canada.
In his decision, Justice Robert Sewell also found denying Desautel the right to hunt would run contrary to Canada’s goal of reconciliation. “I find that recognizing that the Sinixt are Aboriginal people of Canada under s. 35 [of the constitution] is entirely consistent with the objective of reconciliation established in the jurisprudence,” he wrote. “In my view, it would be inconsistent with that objective to deny a right to a group that occupied the land in question in pre-contact times and continued to actively use the territory for some years after the imposition of the international boundary on them.” “Extinct” Indigenous group
“The Colville Tribes is very pleased with this outcome, which affirms the position we have always held: that the Sinixt people in Canada are not ‘extinct’ on either side of the border, and have the right to hunt in their historic territories,” said Colville Confederated Tribes chariman Michael Marchand in a statement.
The original provincial court, and now B.C. Supreme Court ruling have also breathed new life into a fight for recognition by Sinixt people in the Kootenay region.
Their lands were transferred to the Crown when the Sinixt Arrow Lakes Band was declared extinct more than six decades ago.
A Sinixt group, much of whom live in the Slocan Valley, has been fighting preserve archaeological sites and ecological features of the area.
In November, the Regional District of the Central Kootenay (RDCK) passed a motion supporting the group. It also called for the government to hold off on granting reserve lands to another First Nation in their traditional territory, and called on the federal government to reverse the “extinction” designation.
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