Vancouver, B.C. – When the initial decision was handed down in 2016, acquitting Colville Tribal member Rick Desautel of hunting violations in Sinixt traditions lands north of the 49th Parallel, the aboriginal rights of the Sinixt descendants of the Colville Tribes were reestablished nearly 60 years after being declared extinct.
Armed with the legal protection of that decision, tribal members have returned to British Columbia to hunt, fish and gather.
Now, the Colville Tribes have found themselves back in court.
Tribal leaders and attorneys joined Desautel yesterday to present its case in the Rick Desautel/Sinixt Hunting Rights case before the British Columbia Court of Appeal in Vancouver, B.C.
“We are grateful for a very engaged hearing from the Court of Appeal, and confident that the Court will hold, as previous courts have decided, that the Sinixt people are not ‘extinct’ in Canada and that Rick Desautel, as a Sinixt descendant, has the right to hunt in the traditional and historic territories of the Sinixt in British Columbia,” Colville Chairman Rodney Cawston said.
This is the second appeal in this landmark case following wins at the B.C. Supreme Court and lower Provincial Court.
In ruling in the first appeal in December 2017, Justice Robert J. Sewell found that recognizing the Sinixt as an Aboriginal Peoples of Canada is consistent with the overarching goal of reconciliation. He wrote:
“I find that recognizing that the Sinixt are aboriginal people of Canada under s. 35 is entirely consistent with the objective of reconciliation established in the jurisprudence. In my view, it would be inconsistent with that objective to deny a right to a group that occupied the land in question in pre-contact times and continued to actively use the territory for some years after the imposition of the international boundary on them.”
In 2010, Mr. Desautel was charged with hunting elk as a non-resident, without a license, near Castlegar, which falls within Sinixt traditional territory that stretches north from the Colville Reservation in the United States to the area in and around the Arrow Lakes in Canada.
“I found it to be very humbling to watch the judge listen to our argument” said Desautel, “The Sinixt have continued to exercise their inherent rights to hunt, gather and maintain their cultural and historical connections in our territory in British Columbia. I am honored that this case will allow my grandchildren and Sinixt future generations to carry on those traditions.”
Following a lengthy trial held in the fall of 2016, Justice Lisa Mrozinski of the BC Provincial Court held that Sinixt hunting rights endured to the present day, notwithstanding a variety of historical forces which contributed to many Sinixt moving south of what is now the international border, and the introduction of legislation to make it illegal for the Sinixt to hunt in Canada.
The Sinixt/ Lakes Tribe is one of twelve represented by the CCT.
A decision is not expected until sometime in 2019.