Delgamuukw: 25th anniversary of landmark court case

Saturday marked the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court of Canada decision that ruled Indigenous people hold rights to the exclusive use and occupation of their land.

While some progress has been made, leaders of the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan nations say they continue to fight for that land title recognition.

Hanamaux, a Gitxsan Sim’oogit (Chief) who also goes by Don Ryan, has been fighting for decades for the protection of his people’s land.

Despite the court’s historic 1997 decision in Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, Hanamaux said the Crown has not done a good job at honouring it.

“So, when we engage the Crown, they send people to us and all they are are notetakers. And they’re really not making any types of decisions,” he said.

For years, some members of local Indigenous communities have rejected the contentious, multi-billion-dollar Coastal GasLink Pipeline project. Hanamaux is one of those who finds the condition of his territory concerning.

“What’s happening on the territory, we’re seeing parts of the Alpine zones drying out, the glaciers are disappearing, some of the upper basins are drying out,” he said. “The surface water is drying out, the wetlands are drying out. We’re seeing all of that all happening. So when you see all of that, then you really have to address climate change.”

Hanamuxw also said the government needs to listen to Indigenous people, who have a long history of protecting their land.

“The oral histories give us many lessons. We’ve been dealing with this territory that we’re on since the last glaciation period,” he said.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chief Na’moks also said he feels not enough progress has been made to listen to his community.

“Every time we take a step forward, we take a step back,” he said, adding that politicians need to recognize them as the Indigenous governing body.

“Currently, they’re not. They’re actually pitting us against each other from the band-elect system. But once you have that recognition, not only through British Columbia and Canada, but in the constitution itself, then we have progress. Then they can start using words like reconciliation,” Na’moks said.

“They always say they want to consult, but they never consult with the proper people. They never truly talked to the public,” he added. “We need to look after this earth. You’ve got to remember, this earth doesn’t need humans. Humans need the earth. We’ve got to look after it better and it cannot be politicians.”

While the pipeline project is set to be completed by the end of 2023, Na’moks said his community isn’t going anywhere and will continue to fight to protect their land.

“Following the laws of the land is how you get to a better place. Not the laws of the pocketbook,” he said.

In an emailed statement, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin said:

“We are working hard to engage community leaders to continue the unfinished business of reconciling Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan inherent laws with provincial law as we collectively implement the Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa decision … The work to align provincial law with Indigenous law is complex. Resolving these fundamental issues will help avoid conflicts on the land, at the negotiating table and in the courts, benefiting communities and all British Columbians.” 


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *