Can. Supreme Court accepts tribal consultation case
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FRIDAY, MARCH 21, 2003

Canada's highest court on Thursday agreed to hear an appeal of a landmark Native rights case that tests the reaches of the trust relationship.

The British Columbia government and Weyerhaeuser, one of the largest forestry companies in the world, are challenging a ruling that requires them to consult with the Haida Nation on land issues. The decision is considered historic because it imposes a fiduciary duty not only on the government but on private companies.

"[T]he Crown and Weyerhaeuser have now, legally enforceable duties to the Haida people to consult with them in good faith and to endeavour to seek workable accommodations between the aboriginal interests of the Haida people," wrote Justice John Douglas Lambert of the B.C. Court of Appeal in September 2002.

The ruling was one of three last year that sought to clarify a messy area of Indian law in Canada. British Columbia is unique in that treaties were never negotiated with tribes, leaving land, water and other rights unresolved.

For the Haida Nation, that raises a number of major issues. One applies to timber on Queen Charlotte Island, traditional Haida territory. Weyerhaeuser was granted logging licenses under federal law, an action that triggers the duty to consult, the court ruled. The Haida want to make sure the forest is managed properly for future generations.

The court's holding doesn't say the tribe owns the land or is owed money for harvested timber. Those issues will have to be settled by treaty or other agreement.

But it has set the stage for a new round of lawsuits. Days after initial decision last February, the Haida Nation claimed all oil and gas reserves off the shores of Queen Charlotte. The claim is potentially worth billions.

And other tribes have filed new claims based on the Haida victory. Although the goals differ, the suits, at the very least, seek to force private companies and the government to come to the table.

As for the treaty-making process, it has gone very slow. Only one First Nation has signed a treaty but that occurred outside the current framework established by the province.

Court Rulings:
Haida Nation v B.C. and Weyerhaeuser (September 19, 2002) | Haida Nation v B.C. and Weyerhaeuser (April 5, 2002) | Haida Nation v B.C. and Weyerhaeuser (February 27, 2002)

Relevant Links:
Weyerhaeuser -

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