B.C. examining implication of Supreme Court ruling upholding existence of Sinixt Nation

·2 min read
B.C. Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Murray Rankin says the province is looking at the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling to determine how it might impact provincial policies on Indigenous rights. (Mathieu Thériault/CBC - image credit)
B.C. Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Murray Rankin says the province is looking at the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling to determine how it might impact provincial policies on Indigenous rights. (Mathieu Thériault/CBC - image credit)

B.C. Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Murray Rankin says the province is studying the implications of last week's decision by Canada's highest court that a First Nation in B.C. is not extinct, as the province had claimed.

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada said Friday the Sinixt Nation, whose reservation is in Washington state, has a constitutionally protected Indigenous right to hunt in its ancestral territory north of the border, refuting the federal government's 65-year-old claim that the Indigenous community no longer exists.

Rankin says lawyers with the Ministry of the Attorney General are taking a "good hard look" to determine the court ruling's impact on provincial policies on Indigenous rights.

"It's a strong decision," Rankin said Tuesday to Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South. "But the court was very careful to say that it applied only to the facts of that [Indigenous hunting rights] case, and was very reluctant to speculate about what it means in other contexts."

The majority of the Sinixt's traditional territory is in British Columbia.
The majority of the Sinixt's traditional territory is in British Columbia.(Rob Easton/CBC)

The case began in 2010 when Sinixt leaders sent one of its members, Richard Desautel, to shoot and kill an elk in its traditional territory of the Arrow Lakes region in southeastern British Columbia in order to reclaim its identity in Canada.

Desautel phoned the B.C. Conservation Officer Service after his successful hunt to report himself and was charged.

Desautel is a member of the Lakes Tribe of the Colville Confederated Tribes based in Washington state, a successor group of the Sinixt people. He argued his right to hunt for ceremonial purposes in the traditional territory of the Sinixt is protected by Canada's Constitution.

Richard Desautel, middle, a Sinixt man from Washington state, stands outside the Nelson, B.C., courthouse with members of the Colville Confederated Tribes after his acquittal at the trial level on March 27, 2017.
Richard Desautel, middle, a Sinixt man from Washington state, stands outside the Nelson, B.C., courthouse with members of the Colville Confederated Tribes after his acquittal at the trial level on March 27, 2017.(Bob Keating/CBC)

Rankin, who assumed his post in November, says the B.C. government appealed Desautel's case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada because it's concerned about the scope of the meaning of Indigenous Peoples in Canada's Constitution.

"Needing clarity on that was something the province felt was important to get from the highest court," he said.

Rankin says following the court's ruling, the B.C. government will sit down with the Sinixt Nation and the Okanagan Nation Alliance, the intervenor in Desautel's case, to negotiate.

"It'll be an exercise in good faith discussions, negotiations and diplomacy," the minister said. "We want to make sure that we speak to the First Nations affected, but also of course to the non-Indigenous peoples in the areas affected."

Tap the link below to hear Murray Rankin's interview on Daybreak South: