FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 20, 2005
Westbank, BC.: In a December 14, 2005 ruling B.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Williamson granted the Okanagan Nation the right to participate in an appeal of a Provincial Court order deciding that Gregory Willison possesses an aboriginal right to hunt in Okanagan Nation territory by virtue of his status as a Métis person.
The Provincial Court trial, which took place without any notice to the Okanagan Nation, involved charges laid against Mr. Willison under the BC Wildlife Act for hunting that occurred outside the town of Falkland in November, 2000. In a March 22, 2005 decision the Provincial Court found that an historic Métis community associated with the fur trade had existed in the Okanagan region in the early 1800’s, and that as a Métis person Mr. Willison held an aboriginal right to hunt that is protected by s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Provincial Crown has appealed that decision.
“We are very deeply concerned that this case has gone ahead without any notice to the Okanagan Nation or consideration of our interests” said Chief Stewart Phillip, Chairman of ONA. “This case involves inserting constitutionally protected Métis rights into lands our people have inhabited and hunted since time immemorial. We are elated that Justice Williamson agreed that our views on this question are important, and granted us leave to participate in the appeal.”
The Okanagan Nation maintains that they were entitled to notice when the Provincial Court trial considered whether a constitutionally protected Métis hunting right existed in Okanagan territory. Justice Williamson noted, however, that this was a new question that would expand and delay the appeal, and therefore limited the Okanagan Nation’s participation to the issues that were already raised on the appeal.
“The press reported Justice Williamson’s decision as a victory for the Métis, but it’s the Okanagan Nation that won the day” said Chief Fabian Alexis. “We now have a right to participate, and we will be arguing that that there are no Métis rights in Okanagan Nation territory because, unlike in Saskatchewan and Ontario, there was simply no Métis community here in the early 1800’s”.
The Provincial Court judge’s decision focused on Métis participation in the fur trade during the time period of 1812 – 1864. But the evidence showed that, at the height of the fur trade, there were only a few transient Métis present in the Okanagan region for short periods of time. While respecting the existence of Métis historic rights elsewhere in Canada, the Okanagan Nation maintains that the mere transient presence of Metis was simply not enough to create constitutionally protected rights in Okanagan territory.
For further information contact:
Chief Stewart Phillip: (250) 490-5314
Chief Clarence Louie: (250) 498-9132
Chief Fabian Alexis: (250) 306-2838
Chief Robert Louie: (250) 769-4999
Chief Joseph Dennis: (250) 499-5528
Chief Fred Holmes: (250) 378-1986
Chief Richard Holmes: (250) 499-2221