A British Columbia First Nation is one step closer to exerting control over its territory in the wake of a historic Supreme Court of Canada decision last year with the announcement of several agreements with the provincial government.
The Tsilhqot’in Nation became the first in Canada to win title to its land, located west of Williams Lake in the B.C. Interior, in the high court’s decision last June.
The nation and the province issued a joint statement Friday saying they’ve had constructive talks in recent months on how to implement the court ruling, resulting in several new interim agreements.
“The transition of management and control of Tsilhqot’in aboriginal title lands is going to take time,” Tsilhqot’in National Government vice-chair Roger William said in the statement.
“We want to do this right. We need to look after our members and our lands, but we also want to be respectful of others who live and work on our lands.”
The new agreements deal with issues including guide outfitters, emergency and wildfire response, road maintenance, and land access for private property owners.
The Tsilhqot’in has extended existing guide outfitter licences for one year, banning increases in guiding quotas in 2015 and allowing fees to be paid to the province and remitted to the nation.
The nation has not authorized other hunting activities within its lands.
Mr. William, who is also chief of the Xeni Gwet’in, one of six nations that make up the Tsilhqot’in, said the step was taken to provide “business certainty” for guide outfitters while the nation develops its own policies.
“There is a lot of work to be done, but these steps are positive for everyone,” he said.
Steve Thomson, minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, said the agreement represents a concrete step toward a new approach to resource management with the nation.
The landmark Supreme Court ruling gave the nation the right to exclusively use, occupy and economically benefit from the land, as well as the ability to determine how it is used.
In September, the Tsilhqot’in, Xeni Gwet’in and the province signed a letter of understanding to explore how to implement the decision. Premier Christy Clark also apologized for the wrongful hanging of six Tsilhqot’in chiefs in 1864 and 1865.
Talks are expected to continue between the nation’s leaders and the B.C. government to hammer out permanent agreements.
John Rustad, minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, said the reconciliation process is a “profound opportunity” to build a stronger relationship with the Tsilhqot’in.
“I am confident we are going in the right direction to build stable economic, political and community partnerships with the Tsilhqot’in people,” he said.