A group of Indigenous folks stand with drums outside the Law Courts.

Photo Credit: Nuchatlaht | Facebook

Court Given Only Two Options in Historic Land Back Case

Declaration or dismissal—what's it gonna be?

The province has left the burden of reconciliation on the court’s shoulders

What were you doing in 1846? Were you chilling on Nootka Island? Probably not, but the Nuchatlaht’s ancestors were.

The Nuchatlaht have been fighting to regain title over a 300km section of Nootka Island that is currently designated Crown Land.

It is the first court case to fight for indigenous land title since the implementation of the United Nations Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) legislation. The province adopted UNDRIP in 2019.

There’s plenty of evidence supporting the Nuchatlaht’s previous claim to the land.

Jack Woodward is a lawyer for the nation. Now that closing arguments in the case are finished, he says the it’s up to the courts, and they only have two options.

“The province presents the court with a stark choice: dismissal or declaration. No alternatives have been presented,” Woodward told the court Tuesday.

Whatever they choose will have a huge impact on establishing true reconciliation with the nation.

The court’s decision could be groundbreaking. It could completely change the way we approach land title cases in the future.

Mariah Charleson is the vice-president of Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. “This is a case that is going to set the precedent on how BC deals with the land issue. ‘Land Back’ is a real thing. It’s giving the land rights title inherent jurisdiction back to the original landowners and the Nuchatlaht are setting the precedent,” she said. She made the trip along with many others to the courthouse steps to show support in the “fight against BC.” 

There’s a lot resting on the court’s decision. Woodward expressed his disappointment that the issue has been brought to such a stark, “our way or the highway” outcome.

“I am shaking my finger at the province for that because it certainly was in their control and power to help design and accommodate a process that would have put the court in a less binary position.”

Hearings are set to continue until October 14th.

Whatever the court’s decision, the Nuchatlaht won’t be giving up on reconciliation.

As council member Erick Michael put it to the crowd outside the courthouse:

“We’re here to fight for our past generations and future generations to come so we can have a healthy, strong future.” 

All quotes from Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press.