Newspaper article The Canadian Press

High Court's Title Ruling Changes Aboriginal Landscape, Says Experts

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

High Court's Title Ruling Changes Aboriginal Landscape, Says Experts

Article excerpt

Title ruling will be felt for years to come

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VANCOUVER - Pipelines. Gold mines. Liquefied natural gas. Coal. Logging. Fisheries.

The list of natural resource projects potentially affected by a landmark ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada is long and lucrative.

And industry, policy-makers and indigenous leaders alike will be sorting through the fallout from the decision on aboriginal title for some time to come.

"We won't really know the implications, I think, probably for a number of years, maybe a decade or so," said Gordon Christie, director of the Indigenous Legal Studies Program at the University of British Columbia law school.

"Let's see what the province does in reaction to this and what impact this has on resource development."

The high court decision granted aboriginal title -- for the first time in Canadian history -- to the Tsilhqot'in Nation in the B.C. Interior.

It amounts to ownership akin to private property and provides a road map for First Nations across the country to establish title over unceded lands.

"Until yesterday, we didn't actually have any piece of land in Canada that was clearly held under aboriginal title. We knew it existed but we hadn't had any First Nation that actually was able to establish that they had title to a piece of land," Christie said.

"That's changed. So we now know that it's possible -- finally."

And it wasn't a small postage stamp of land. The high court granted title to more than 1,750 square kilometres, approximately one-third the size of Prince Edward Island.

The decision buoyed opponents of oil pipelines proposed through B.C., including the Northern Gateway pipeline by Enbridge (TSX:ENB) and the Trans Mountain line by Kinder Morgan.

"I think they're probably back on their heels," said Stewart Phillip, grand chief of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

The Gitxaala, through whose territory the Northern Gateway must pass and who have already launched court action against the project, said approval of the pipeline violates the principles set out by the high court.

Unlike in other provinces, the Crown never signed treaties with most British Columbia First Nations, including the Tsilhqot'in. …

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