Ruling excludes Nisga’a Nation as defendant, sets stage for title trial

The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled in favour of the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs in a significant legal decision that may influence future Aboriginal title disputes and intergovernmental relations. Justice Stephens rejected the Nisga’a Nation’s request to be included as a defendant in the Aboriginal title case brought by the Gitanyow, scheduled for trial on Oct. 1.

If the Nisga’a were made a defendant, they would have had the right to formally respond to the lawsuit, be actively involved in all the preparations before the trial, and participate in every part of the trial itself, including making a final argument.

The case revolves around the claim of the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs to 6,200 square kilometres of land known as Gitanyow Lax’yip, situated within the Nass and Skeena Watersheds, encompassing the Kitwanga and Kispiox Rivers. The disputed territory largely overlaps with the Nass Wildlife Area, where the Nisga’a Nation holds non-exclusive hunting rights, as established in the 2000 Nisga’a Treaty — a treaty negotiated without the Gitanyow’s involvement.

In forming his decision Justice Stephens highlighted the complexities and extended duration of Aboriginal title litigation in B.C., stressing the need for a new approach that considers “proportionality, access to justice, and reconciliation.” Stephens noted that adding the Nisga’a Nation as a defendant was unnecessary, as the Gitanyow had deliberately structured their claim to avoid challenging the Nisga’a Treaty.

“In reaching this decision, I have not only placed weight, as I must, on the Gitanyow’s interest in access to justice, but also on the interest in resolving such claims in a timely manner,” Stephens wrote.

Sk’a’nism Tsa ‘Win’Giit (Joel Starlund), executive director of the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs, emphasized the decision’s wider significance, calling it a “powerful precedent” not only for the Gitanyow’s pursuit of recognition and self-determination, but for all B.C. First Nations.

“Other Indigenous Nations can also share in this victory given the importance the court has placed on access to justice, and the public interest in seeing Aboriginal rights claims determined on their merits in a timely manner,” he said in a statement.

However, Justice Stephen’s dismissal of the Nisga’a’s application is not the end of the matter. The Nisga’a Lisims Government holds a statutory right to participate in any judicial proceeding where the interpretation of the Nisga’a Final Agreement is at play.

Stephens ordered a hearing be scheduled no less than 60 days before the trial to revisit the case’s progress, and decide then if and how the Nisga’a can be involved in the final argument.

Black Press reached out to the Nisga’a Lisims Government but a response was not received as of press time.

Read the original article by Quinn Bender on Terrace Standard website.