Nuchatlaht Nation calls on new BC government to honour UNDRIP commitment in historic title case
B.C. Crown lawyers continue to stall Nuchatlaht title case, arguing the Nation abandoned their territory
Nuchatlaht Ha’houlthee(Oclucje) — The Nuchatlaht First Nation is calling on Premier John Horgan, Attorney General David Eby and the newly appointed cabinet ministers to correct the long-standing government policy that Nuchatlaht abandoned their territory, and to abide by legislation to uphold the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Nuchatlaht is pursuing a land claim for their territory, including northern Nootka Island on the west coast of Vancouver Island. British Columbia’s lawyers have stalled the case by raising absurd—and expensive—arguments that the Nation abandoned their territory in an effort to disprove continuous use of the land.
“The wealth here has always been owned by our people,” explained Nuchatlaht House Speaker Archie Little. “If we cut all the trees, we were poor. If we caught all the fish, we were poor. So we managed our territories and we didn't abandon them."
Yesterday, Premier John Horgan and his BC NDP majority government swore in a new cabinet, including new Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin. In an earlier statement, Premier Horgan noted the one-year anniversary of provincial legislation implementing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, emphasizing the importance of the relationship between the province and First Nations. If government lawyers continue to argue in court that Nuchatlaht abandoned its territory, this would be a contradiction of that mandate and would violate DRIPA legislation.
“The province now has an opportunity to advance the project of reconciliation by giving new instructions to Crown counsel to put aside the distasteful defence of abandonment used by previous administrations against First Nations,” said Jack Woodward, attorney for the Nuchatlaht Nation. “Now is the time to build on the promises made in UNDRIP, which were adopted as part of B.C. law in 2019.”
Nootka Island and the surrounding area have been the core of Nuchatlaht territory for thousands of years. After the Nation was historically forced off their territory on Nootka Island, the land was licensed to timber companies without consent. The small island now has over 1,000 km of logging roads, primarily operated by Western Forest Products.
“British Columbia is trying to silence the Nuchatlaht Nation so that it can do whatever it wants to our land,” said Tyee Ha’wiih Jordan Michael.“We will not be silent while our cultural sites are destroyed, salmon creeks are degraded, and old-growth forests are clearcut.”
The Nuchatlaht Nation is calling for immediate action by Horgan, his new ministers, and the entire NDP caucus to abandon their legal argument of abandonment and deliver on their promises for honourable and just relations with Indigenous Peoples.
As Michael stresses, “Premier Horgan and his government must change course and act honourably, instead of taking a colonial approach from the 18th century.”
Sara Jansen, Band Manager