Colville Hunters Want to Hunt Ancestral Lands, BC Government Says No

A question about Canadian aboriginal rights is at the heart of an appeal by British Columbia that could stop Colville members from hunting ancestral lands.
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A question about Canadian aboriginal rights is at the heart of an appeal by the British Columbia government that could stop Colville tribal members from hunting their ancestral lands.

On April 25, the British Columbia government filed the appeal with the British Columbia Supreme Court, asking that a Provincial Court decision from March 27 be repealed. This appeal states that the Judge erred when deciding that Sinixt people living outside Canada can hold Canadian aboriginal rights as that is not consistent with Canadian sovereignty and the 1982 Constitution act.

On March 27, a Canadian judge ruled in favor of a hunter, Rick Desautel from the Colville Confederated Reservation, who had been charged with hunting illegally in British Columbia. He is a member of the Lakes Band, one of 12 tribes or bands that call the Colville Confederated Reservation home. The Lakes Band are descendants of the Sinixt people who lived in what is now British Columbia, before moving to what is now Washington state in the 1800s.

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Provincial Court Justice Lisa Mrozinski’s determined that the rights of Sinixt people had endured, despite moving across the International Boundary and changing the name of their ancestry. During that trial several witnesses offered evidence regarding how the Sinixt had hunted and fished for centuries on their ancestral lands which included territory on both sides of what later became the boundary between the two counties.

Dr. Michael Marchand, Colville Chairman, is a Lakes Band member himself. At the time of the ruling giving Lakes Band members the right to hunt on ancestral lands, he exclaimed how pleased they were with the judge’s ruling, something they had been seeking for many years.

“Of course we’re disappointed, but not surprised,” Chairman Marchand was quoted in a press release from the tribe. “We’re confident that ultimately we will succeed in this effort to establish that the Sinixt are not ‘extinct’ and our Colville Sinixt members will be able to exercise their traditional rights to hunt in their traditional territory in Canada. We’re prepared to fight for them for as long as it takes to win.”

The appeal is expected to be heard this fall in Nelson, British Columbia.

Colville Tribal Chairman, Dr. Marchand, explained what may happen next. “The Colville Tribes recognize that this is the first of three possible levels of appeal, including an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada if that court grants permission to do so. We are committed to support Rick to the end and fight for the rights of all Sinixt people to the highest level of court in the land.”