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Tŝilhqot’in Nation Celebrates 10-Year Anniversary of Aboriginal Title

26 June 2024 |Tŝilhqot’in Nation | Today marks 10 years since the historic declaration of Aboriginal Title to 1900 km² of Indigenous lands here in Canada. This watershed moment was the result of decades of work by the Tŝilhqot’in Nation and the bravery of our Elders who stood up in a foreign court system to prove that we are a people with laws, responsibilities and governance.

While the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision was released in a day, legislative and policy change have been slower to respond. As with most things in the world, great success comes from great partnerships. But how is an Indigenous government, like the Tŝilhqot’in National Government, meant to trust the same structures that have denied their rights and jurisdiction for centuries? This has and will take time.

Ten years is a short timeframe when we think of the Tŝilhqot’in Nation and the colonization of our lands by Great Britain, and later Canada, and the historical processes of cultural genocide and the systematic dislocation of Indigenous people from their lands and culture which occurred over centuries.

Aboriginal Title is about far more than land – it is about regaining the strength that our ancestors enjoyed prior to colonization. It is about rebuilding our Nation in all areas of life and becoming a self-determining Nation once again. Through partnerships, we are making transformative change in all areas, such as governance, communities, and language.

One example of this is the Tŝ’iqi Dechen Jedilhtan (Women’s Council) and our progress in addressing the climate crisis through emergency management. The Tŝilhqot’in Nation has a matriarchal governance system that was taken away when the Indian Act was imposed on our people. Since Aboriginal Title was recognized, we have been able to bring modern expression to that system back through the Tŝ’iqi Dechen Jedilhtan. This council supports cultural revitalization and has a decision-making role within the Nation.

In 2017, wildfires large enough to cover 80% of New York City scorched the Tŝilhqot’in territory. Large landscapes of forest, traditional medicines and food sources were destroyed. Some communities chose to evacuate, while others chose to stay and fight the wildfire. Quickly, the Nation realized that the wildfires were no longer the largest threat to the community, rather it was outside governments. These outside agencies imposed their rules and systems on the community while disregarding Tŝilhqot’in traditional knowledge and threatened to take our children away for standing up for our jurisdiction and authority.

Since 2017, a lot of work has been done to repair those relationships and move forward in a better way. This included the first of its kind tripartite Emergency Management Agreement between Canada, British Columbia, and the Tŝilhqot’in Nation. The Agreement focuses on providing the support needed to ensure jurisdiction over emergency management is exercised by the Tŝilhqot’in.

Within the 1900 km² “declared title area,” we are making progress in establishing robust governance systems that serve the needs of the land and people. Decisions are guided by what is best for the lands and water, knowing that this is what sustains us. There are also some land uses that we continue to allow other governments to manage with our free, prior, and informed consent outlined in written agreements.

As we celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the first declaration of Indigenous title in Canadian history, we also recognize the Indigenous leaders that came before us to make this stage in history possible. Our case was won by the strength of our stories – the unbreakable nature by which our Nation stood strong and used their voices in courts. With that, I want to say Nexwechanalhyagh (we thank you all).

 

This article was submitted to IWGIA and written by Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Joe Alphonse, O.B.C, LL.D. (hon.), Tribal Chair, Tŝilhqot’in National Government.

Tags: Human rights

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