Canada aboriginal court win sparks new pipeline questions

Thu Jun 26, 2014 4:30pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Aboriginals in British Columbia can stake a broad claim to traditional territories due to a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision that also raises new questions about prospects for the contentious Northern Gateway pipeline and other resource projects.

Thursday's ruling marks the first time the Supreme Court has recognized aboriginal title to a specific piece of land. It is expected to have widespread application in the resource-rich Pacific Coast province, much of which is subject to unresolved aboriginal land claims.

The case involved a claim to 1,750 sq km (676 sq miles) of land in central British Columbia. The court ruled that the Tsilhqot'in Nation, a group of six native bands, is entitled to prevent forestry on this tract.

The decision overturned an appeals court ruling that had restricted the Tsilhqot'in to having title only in the small areas of the land where they had proven continuous and intensive physical use.

While it still could take years to establish aboriginal title in other areas, the Supreme Court warned that if title is established, then existing development projects might have to be killed off if proper care is not exercised by their proponents.

"For example, if the (government) begins a project without consent prior to aboriginal title being established, it may be required to cancel the project upon establishment of the title if continuation of the project would be unjustifiably infringing," the court said in its 8-0 decision.


Native protesters listen to speeches during an Idle No More march at the Peace Arch border crossing between Canada and the U.S. in Surrey, British Columbia January 5, 2013. REUTERS/Andy Clark