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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Chilcotin is Tsilhqot'in

By guest blogger Tim Lash Tim Lash

The unanimous Supreme Court of Canada ruling on the Tsilhqot'in case from 1983 is good news. Here's my ridiculous opinion. 

1. For us to realize a diverse and fair society in Canada, each culture needs its own sources of authority and legitimacy affirmed in Canada-wide institutions we all share. Reconciliation requires respect (if not, the reconciled co-existence won't spring back when there's occasional or mid-term subordination of some by others). Our society evolves, under pressures. The Supreme Court of Canada, and Parliament when it's working right, are our best institutions for marrying human respect with the authority of Canadian law.

2. Our mainstream civil law culture, so far, mostly respects property and exclusive ownership (rather than say, community, or ecological dependence). So affirming Tsilhqot'in title—not just hunting and fishing rights—gives the Tsilhqot'in a new deep source of respect in our culture. With title, they don't just have opinions about the resources they depend on. They make decisions about the land they own.

3. This Supreme Court decision is primarily about First Nations who haven't signed things over in treaties. But I imagine its long run effects will support respect and reconciliation Canada-wide.

4. The Court recognizes nomadic use as a valid human relation to natural resources, as an entitling relationship that confers legal standing. This is elevating. It raises legal eyes up from "fenced farm, fixed frontiers" cultures, to cultures that are more attuned and responsive to larger-scale shifting patterns of living nature. Like climate, weather, geographic range of animals and plants, forest succession, natural 'disasters.' We're going to need this legal shift.

5. I don't see exactly how, yet, but this decision is going to give more legal value to "the commons." The timing of this SCC decision, at the same time as the Global Ocean Commission's report "Mission Ocean" calling for new UN and national action for the commons of the High Seas is fortunate, in a conservation and sustainability worldview.

6. Next evolution: This Tsilhqot'in decision still gives a lot of weight to geographic exclusion of others as a test for their own legitimate decision powers about natural resources. Two potential paths for strengthening the roles of nature and of community inclusion in our individual-based decision rules are by elaborating 
7. Like other best decisions by the Supreme Court, this one is beautifully and clearly written. The opening section, pp 5 to 11, explains the reasoning in easy-to-understand human terms.

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