The latest chapter in the sn̓ʕaýckstx (Arrow Lakes/Sinixt) people to reclaim status in Canada will play out beginning Thursday (October 8, 2020) at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa.
The nine justices of the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the landmark appeal case of R v. Desautel beginning at 9:30 a.m. EST.
“We are looking forward to having our voices heard in the Supreme Court of Canada and are confident the Court will ultimately affirm the three lower court victories,” Rodney Cawston, the Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (CCT) said in a media release.
“We the sn̓ʕay̓ckstx are not ‘extinct’ and have the right and responsibility to hunt on and steward the land that our people have walked since time immemorial.”
Chairman Cawston said the sn̓ʕay̓ckstx or Lakes Tribe is one of 12 represented by the CCT.
He said for thousands of years the sn̓ʕay̓ckstx occupied a sizable territory stretching north from Kettle Falls in Washington State to north of Revelstoke in British Columbia and moved back and forth across what is now the boundary between the US and Canada.
After that boundary was established in 1846, sn̓ʕay̓ckstx people on the “US side” found it increasingly difficult to continue to exercise their rights north of the border, including having a law passed in 1896 to make it illegal to hunt in their Canadian territory.
Ultimately, many sn̓ʕay̓ckstx were forced to settle south of the border and were later declared to be “extinct” in Canada in 1956.
Chairman Cawston expressed his gratitude for the support of 12 separate First Nations and tribal organizations from across the continent, and on both sides of the 49th parallel, that are intervening in the case.
“This case has implications well beyond sn̓ʕay̓ckstx territory,” Cawston said.
“COVID-19 has brought home the lasting impact that the “invisible line” has imposed on Indigenous people.”
Chairman Cawston said while supporters are deeply saddened that the pandemic is preventing them from attending the hearing in person.
“It will not stop 12 separate First Nations and tribal organizations from standing together in solidarity, spirit and prayer to assert our rights within our traditional territories on behalf of our ancestors and future generations, Chairman Cawston said.
In 2010, Rick Desautel was charged with hunting elk as a non-resident, and without a license, near Castlegar, B.C., which falls within the heart of sn̓ʕay̓ckstx traditional territory.
Following a lengthy trial held in the fall of 2016, Desautel was acquitted of all charges, with Justice Lisa Mrozinski of the BC Provincial Court holding that sn̓ʕay̓ckstx hunting rights endured to the present day and were constitutionally protected.
Two subsequent appeals by the Crown were dismissed by the BC Supreme Court and Court of Appeal respectively.
Desautel has been quarantining in British Columbia since mid-September to allow for travel to Ottawa to be present for this historic moment, even if the pandemic will force him to wait outside the courthouse.
“I am honored be able to take this journey with our ancestors, who have guided me across the border and here to Ottawa,” Desautel explained.
“Their help has deepened my faith that our rights, traditions and natural laws will prevail.
“I may only be able to stand on the steps of the courthouse, but that will not stop the process of truth and reconciliation, for which I share responsibility.”
The appeal will be heard Thursday, after which the Supreme Court of Canada is expected to reserve judgment for several months.
Desautel will make a statement on the front steps of the Supreme Court at 8:30 a.m. EST/5:30 a.m. PST on Thursday October 8th. The hearing will commence at 9:30 a.m. EST, and can be viewed live at this link.
For more information on the journey of Rick Desautel to the Supreme Court of Canada, see the link below to “Older than the Crown”, the documentary produced by CCT and directed by award winning Native American filmmaker Derrick LaMere:
Documentary Link: https://vimeo.com/370190413/cd0d6eeea8