Sts’ailes First Nations announced a “landmark legal action” this week, coinciding with National Aboriginal Day.
They are seeking to confirm their Aboriginal title and rights within the Harrison-Chehalis watershed, including its rights to manage and govern fisheries and freshwater, according to a news release sent out Aug. 24.
It states the legal action “will break new ground in the recognition of Aboriginal title and rights to water and management of fisheries.”
This all stems from an incident in 2012, when former Sts’ailes Chief Willie Charlie and Sts’ailes’ Fisheries Manager Kim Charlie were charged through the fisheries while on the Harrison River. The charges led to a criminal trial that went through its first phase in June this year. A decision is expected on Aug. 29.
“In response and as a defence to the fishery charges, Sts’ailes has started its own legal action against Canada and the Province seeking to solidify its inherent title, rights and responsibilities to govern and manage the Harrison-Chehalis terminal fishery for the benefit of its present and future generations,” the release says.
Chief Harvey Paul says the people of Sts’ailes are well-versed in caring for their land and resources.
“Sts’ailes has protected the fishery on the Harrison and Chehalis rivers for many generations, with no depletion of the returning stocks,” he says. “It was not until DFO took over the management of the fish that the salmon seem to have run into problems. Over the past two generations our people remember the churning of the water in the sloughs, due to the abundance of fish that used to return every year, now there is barely enough to maintain the stocks of returning fish to spawn. Under section 35 of the Canadian constitution the First Nations have the right to manage the resources and water within their territories.”
The Sts’ailes are seeking a declaration of Aboriginal title that includes all lands, waters and resources that make up the Harrison-Chehalis terminal fishery, and declarations of Aboriginal rights that include rights to practice a wide range of traditional activities including hunting, fishing, trapping, harvesting and gathering, governance and ceremonial or spiritual practices.
They are also looking for other remedies from Canada and the Province, including damages and compensation for “past and continuing infringements on its Aboriginal title and rights, including the alienation of lands for private property.”
Boyd Peters, Aboriginal Title and Rights Manager echoes the Chief’s statements.
“Sts’ailes has governed our territory since time immemorial using our traditional laws that have been passed down by our ancestors,” he says. “This landmark case will enable us to emphasize our historic and ongoing goal of sustainability for the land, fisheries and water within our rich territory.”