Will the Harper Government Honour Tribunal Decision in Williams Lake Claim and Uphold Justice for First Nations?

Friday, March 7, 2014

(Coast Salish Territory / Vancouver BC - March 7, 2014) ) The Union of BC Indian Chiefs congratulates the Williams Lake Indian Band on the just resolution of its village site specific claim at the Specific Claims Tribunal. On February 28, 2014 the Tribunal ruled that contrary to historical policy and law, Colonial officials in the 19th century opened the community’s village lands to settlers for pre-emption. The Tribunal held Canada accountable for the Colony’s failure to protect the Band’s village lands and for failing to address the Band’s grievance after Confederation.
“On behalf of the UBCIC Specific Claims Working Group, I congratulate the Williams Lake Indian Band in their tireless efforts in standing up for their people today and for the seven generations to come,” stated Chief Maureen Chapman, Chair for the BC Specific Claims Working Group.  “This has been a long time coming. It is a very significant decision, a clear acknowledgement by the Tribunal that Canada failed to fulfill its legal obligations and a measure of justice for the members of the Williams Lake community who have struggled for over a century to have their grievance heard and recognized.”
This is the third decision of the Tribunal, an independent body established by the federal government in 2008 to make final and binding decisions on specific claims rejected by the federal government. Canada now rejects or arbitrarily closes 85% of claims.  The high rejection rates are accompanied by the federal government’s announcement on February 19, 2014 of funding cuts between 40 to 60 percent to claims research and development.
“The federal government must fully acknowledge and take seriously the enormous costs to First Nations and to the Canadian public of failing to fairly resolve specific claims,” stated UBCIC President Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. “I urge the Harper government to immediately restore funding to the claims research associations and First Nations dedicated to investigating these historical grievances.  Without adequate funding to research and submit specific claims, First Nations will be prohibited from accessing the Tribunal and achieving justice for their communities like that enjoyed by the Williams Lake Band this week.”
Phillip also conveyed his hope that the Government of Canada respects the Tribunal’s decision:  “This is an impartial body with the legislated authority to make final decisions on specific claims. The Tribunal was created as a final remedy. I urge the federal government to respect the jurisdiction given to the Tribunal under the Specific Claims Tribunal Act rather than compound the injustice and economic hardship to the Williams Lake Band by seeking a judicial review in Federal Court as it is currently doing regarding the Tribunal’s finding in the Kitselas claim.”
He cautioned, “The Harper government must remember that the violent and costly confrontations at Oka, Ipperwash and Caledonia resulted from unresolved specific claims issues."
Media inquiries:  Grand Chief Stewart Phillip (604) 684-0231

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