Delgamuuk’w vs. British Columbia

Upholds aboriginal title (SCC) On appeal from previous BC Court decisions, the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs amend an original assertion of ownership and control over their territories, replacing it with claims of Aboriginal Title and self-government. BC argues that Aboriginal Title does not exist. Alternatively, BC argues, Aboriginal Title is not a right of ownership, but a right to engage in traditional subsistence practices such as hunting and fishing. The Supreme Court of Canada rejects the trial judge’s ruling that Aboriginal rights had been extinguished before 1871. The Court does not decide whether the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en still hold title to their land and instead clarifies that Aboriginal Title is not a right of absolute ownership, but a proprietary right to “exclusive use and occupation of land” that “is a burden on the Crown’s underlying title.” Once Aboriginal Title is proven, federal and provincial governments may infringe upon it for valid reasons, including resource extraction, economic and infrastructure development, settlement of foreign populations and environmental protection. Aboriginal people must be consulted and compensated for any infringement or extinguishment of Aboriginal Title.

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