The ruling in the case of Richard Dessautle, a U.S. citizen and member of the Lakes Tribe of the Confederate Colville Tribes in Washington State, ended a more than decade-long legal battle that began in 2010 when a deer shot a cow in Arrow Lakes, British Columbia.
He alerted a conservation officer and was accused of hunting without a license and hunting large game while he was not a resident of British Columbia. He said he intended his work to be a test case.
Dessautl argued that he was exercising his right under Article 35 of the Canadian Constitution Act, which recognizes and affirms the rights afforded to “the aboriginal peoples of Canada”. He said he had the right to search for ceremonial items on the traditional lands of his ancestors, the Synxt, whose ancestral lands extended into what is now British Columbia.
Canada declared the group “extinct” after the death of its last member in 1956.
A British Columbia court approved him and acquitted him. The Supreme Court of British Columbia and the District Court of Appeals rejected the state’s appeals. Then Canada’s Supreme Court appealed, arguing that the case has an official title Her Majesty The Queen v. Richard Lee DeauautAnd the It was of national importance.
The main question before the court was whether the rights granted to “indigenous people of Canada” under the Constitution Act could extend to groups that do not live in Canada.
The Crown argued that the oath should be restricted to the indigenous peoples located in Canada and that granting Dessault these rights would be inconsistent with Canadian sovereignty.
In a 7-2 decision, Canada’s highest court rejected the crown’s appeal.
On the meaningful interpretation of S. 35 (1), the scope of “the indigenous people of Canada” is clear: it must mean the contemporary caliphs of the indigenous communities who occupied Canadian lands at the time of European contact, the court said.
The interpretation, which includes “the indigenous people who were here when the Europeans arrived and later moved or were forced to move to another place, or who were imposed on them by international borders, reflects the purpose of reconciliation.”
This “risks perpetuating the historical injustice suffered by the indigenous people at the hands of Europeans,” she added.
Before first contact with Europeans in 1811, Sinixt hunted, hunted, and gathered in traditional lands that stretched north from Revelstoke, in what is now British Columbia, up to Kettle Falls, in what is now Washington state, in the south.
Over time, Sinixt moved to reside full time in the southern portion of their territory, in what would later become the United States. A judge in British Columbia found that a “combination of factors” led to this immigration – not all of them voluntary – and that the group had never given up on its claim to its ancestral lands in Canada.
Many of the Sinixt, who became known as the Lake Tribe, resided in the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington state, where Dessautl lives. Those who remained in Canada were transferred in 1902 to a reserve created for the Arrow Lakes Division.