Will the New Liberal Government Honour Tribunal Decision in Akisq’nuk First Nation Specific Claim?

(Coast Salish Territory / Vancouver BC – February 11, 2016) The Union of BC Indian Chiefs congratulates the Akisq’nuk First Nation on the just resolution of its specific claim at the Specific Claims Tribunal. On February 5, 2016 the Tribunal ruled that Canada breached its legal obligation to the Akisq’nuk First Nation by failing to correct an 1887 land survey error and again in 1915 when it failed to protect additional grazing lands from alienation. Both historical events resulted in significant losses of reserve lands and according to the Tribunal Chair, Justice Harry Slade, expose a series of “missteps, an outright betrayal, and inaction” on the part of Canada during the reserve creation process in British Columbia.  

“On behalf of the UBCIC Specific Claims Working Group, I congratulate the Akisq’nuk First Nation in finally obtaining justice for this historical wrongdoing,” stated Chief Maureen Chapman, Chair of the BC Specific Claims Working Group. “This has been a long time coming and demonstrates clearly the persistence of First Nations communities to have these claims heard and resolved with finality. Justice Slade’s condemnation of Canada’s dishonourable conduct during the reserve creation process highlights the significance this decision will have for most other First Nations in BC whose reserves were allotted during this time.”

This is the 11th decision of the Specific Claims Tribunal, an independent body established by the federal government in 2008 to make final and binding decisions on specific claims rejected by the federal government. In the last 10 years Canada has rejected or arbitrarily closed 86% of claims resulting in increasing caseloads at the Tribunal.

UBCIC President Grand Chief Stewart Phillip stated, “The Akisq’nuk ruling should mark a turning point for Canada in its treatment of BC First Nations seeking the resolution of their specific claims. The Tribunal has identified the honour of the Crown as absolutely critical to Canada’s role as fiduciary and has recounted a pattern of conduct throughout theBC reserve creation process that failed in every respect to meet this legal responsibility. Importantly, the Tribunal articulated clear legal principles with which to assess a large number of claims originating in BC. Canada must apply these principles in assessing the validity of similar claims and by initiating good faith negotiations with First Nations who have seen similar claims rejected.”

Phillip also conveyed his hope that the new Liberal Government will respect the finality of the Tribunal’s decision. “This is an impartial body with the legislated authority to make final decisions on specific claims. I urge the federal government to respect the jurisdiction given to the Tribunal under the Specific Claims Tribunal Act rather than compound the injustice and economic hardship to the Akisq’nuk First Nation by seeking a judicial review as it is currently doing in the Tribunal’s finding in the Williams Lake Band’s specific claim. We take very seriously Prime Minister Trudeau’s stated commitment to renewing the federal government’s relationship with Indigenous Nations in Canada and respecting the jurisdiction of the Specific Claims Tribunal is a significant step toward this renewal.”

Media inquiries:
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, UBCIC President (604) 684-0231
Jody Woods, UBCIC Research Director (604) 992-8849