By Timothy Schafer, The Nelson Daily
The ultimate question of whether the Sinixt Nation exists or not will be one of the main side issues answered in BC Supreme Court when their court case to prevent logging on Perry Ridge resumes in Vancouver next month.
Arguments are still in process but have been adjourned this week until Feb. 3 as the Sinixt contend the Crown failed to do its duty to consult them in the course of issuing Timber Sale Licence A80073 to Sunshine Logging, said their lawyer, David Aaron.
On Nov. 4, 2010, Justice Wilcox conditionally upheld the Sinixt’s action of interest to protect Perry Ridge by staying Sunshine Logging’s injunction to remove a November blockade by the Sinixt on a Forest Service access road.
The court has temporarily prevented logging from happening, but the Sinixt are looking for a firm injunction against logging in the area. However, Sunshine Logging from Kaslo is losing money and people are being laid off because they haven’t been able to proceed with any logging — and more people will be laid off.
“There are various proceedings going on,” said Aaron on Wednesday. “There are various applications occurring within the context of the proceeding.”
The first application is that the Sinixt apply for an order quashing the logging licence and the road building permit on the basis that the Province issued them in the absence of consultation with the Sinixt.
The Sinixt have contended the Province is under duty to consult where there is credible claim of aboriginal rights and title. Whether or not the Sinixt have credence as a First Nation will also likely be dealt with in the course of the case.
Although the Province hasn’t raised the question of whether or not the Sinixt are a first nation, the Crown has brought in application to strike the petition, the instrument by which the Sinixt have advanced their claim.
The Province is looking to have the petition declared inadmissible based on the fact the petitioners (Sinixt) are not appropriate representatives of any definable aboriginal rights claimant.
They are challenging the fact that the petitioners are even defendants of the historic group identified as Sinixt. The Province is saying there is no evidence to show that they are who they say they are.
A look back
Perry Ridge is the source of drinking water for many residents in the lower Slocan River valley, some 30 kilometres northwest of Nelson.
Over the last 20 years the Sinixt declared its intention to protect public drinking watershed sources within its traditional lands, a legislative policy formerly maintained by the BC government.
The duty to consult First Nations on a timber sale licence arises when the Crown has knowledge of a potential Aboriginal claim or right on the land, said Aaron.
Although the Sinixt case for rights and claims is still before the court to have their “extinct” status lifted with the federal government, the issue on Perry Ridge is not about extinct status but on the duty to consult aboriginal people, Aaron had said earlier.
Aaron said the Province's decision to issue Timber Sale Licence A80073 has adverse impacts on the Sinixt's pending Aboriginal claims and rights.
According to Aaron, the Sinixt have been demanding consultation regarding development plans on Perry Ridge since at least 1997. A letter of Oct. 7, 2008 from Aaron asking for the Crown to consult with the Sinixt on Perry Ridge received no reply from BC Timber Sales.
The Sinixt have contended that industrial development on Perry Ridge could jeopardize Sinixt archaeological sites, exacerbate geological instability with the risk of slope failure, disrupt water quality and quantity, and threaten endangered species over which the Sinixt exercise “aboriginal rights.”
Alongside B.C.’s Attorney General and Sunshine Logging to counter the Sinixt’s action, the Okanagan Nation Alliance and the Colville Business Council are participating as Intervenors.