It has been 150 years since the Tsilhqot'in people of British Columbia declared war on the Crown and the descendants of descendants of warriors long dead declared victory Thursday, following a landmark ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada.
The high court ruling recognized, for the first time in Canada, aboriginal title to a specific tract of land. The unanimous decision ended a 25-year legal odyssey and set a historic precedent affecting resource rights.
At an emotional news conference, Percy Guichon, chief of the Tsi Del Del — one of the six nations within the Tsilhqot'in — spoke of their leaders lured to peace talks and then hanged for the Chilcotin War of 1864.
"I'm so thankful and grateful to say that 150 years later we see the Supreme Court of Canada's decision today as the final justice for six chiefs who died for their land, way of life and the future of the Tsilhqot'in people," he said.
The high court overturned a BC Appeal Court ruling, essentially making it easier for First Nations to establish title over lands that were regularly used for hunting, fishing and other activities prior to contact with Europeans.
Unlike other provinces, the Crown did not sign treaties with most B.C. First Nations and the landmark ruling — the court's first on aboriginal title —will weigh heavily in unresolved land claims.
"British Columbia is comprised of unceded, unextinguished aboriginal-title territory from one end to the other," said Stewart Phillip, grand chief of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
Phillip admitted he was not expecting the decision, but he called it a win for all Canadians.
"Now we have the opportunity, we have the platform to build a genuine dialogue of reconciliation that has eluded us for so long," he said.
"I truly believe that a rising tide carries all boats and in that regard, we have an opportunity to participate in the economic future of this province as equal partners."
The Tsilhqot'in nation is located west of Williams Lake, in the B.C. Interior, with a population of about 3,000.