By Marshall Jones
WESTBANK - The Okanagan Nation Alliance is using the landmark Tsilquot’in Supreme Court of Canada decision establishing Aboriginal title to launch a legal challenge against another band’s treaty with the province.
The Alliance, made up seven First Nations in the B.C. Interior and U.S., says it should have been consulted in the negotiations that transferred 241 hectares of Crown land near Nakusp to the Ktunaxa.
Alliance chair Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the lands have important village sites, hunting grounds and cultural heritage sites for Alliance members as well.
“This lawsuit is a direct result of an unprincipled and broken British Columbia Treaty Process that ignores established legal principles, traditional protocols, and the Title and Rights of First Nations,” Phillip said. “You can’t achieve reconciliation with one First Nation by trampling on the rights of another First Nation. That is the opposite of honourable conduct. Our Title and Rights are not there for the Province to ignore or give away. Our people and communities demanded we take action to protect their Title and Rights and that’s what we’re doing.”
The Alliance has quietly challenged the process before by sending letters and requesting meetings but says they were ignored. Phillip says the Supreme Court of Canada decision—which granted Tsilquot’in band members lands and title and established how claims are proven—bolsters their legal case to stop the Ktunaxa treaty.
“The Tsilhqot’in decision confirms that, when Aboriginal title and rights are at stake, the Crown is wise to move from the world of mere consultation to one of consent. In our case, the Crown did nothing,” Phillip said.
The Alliance is made up of the Lower Similkameen Band, Okanagan Indian Band, Osoyoos Indian Band, Penticton Band, Upper Nicola Band, Upper Similkameen Band and Westbank First Nation, as well as the Colville Confederated Tribes in the United States.