British Columbia High Court Sides With Colville Tribal Member In Cross-Border Dispute

Rick Desautel
File photo. Rick Desautel of Inchelium, Washington, center, was accused of illegal hunting after he crossed into Canada in 2010 to hunt for elk on the traditional hunting grounds of the Sinixt tribe in Canada. CREDIT: EMILY SCHWING / NORTHWEST NEWS NETWORK

The Supreme Court of British Columbia has upheld the claims of a Native American man from Washington state that he has the right to hunt in the province.

The long-running case concerned Rick Desautel, a member of the Colville Tribes and a descendant of the Sinixt, an indigenous group native to the Northwest.

In 2010, Desautel crossed the border from Washington to British Columbia and shot an elk without a permit. Desautel argued that the hunt was not illegal because it took place in the traditional hunting grounds of the Sinixt.

But the province argued that those rights ended when the Sinixt were declared extinct in Canada. The last surviving member there died in 1956.

The decision effectively recognizes the aboriginal rights of the tribe in British Columbia.

In his decision, British Columbia Supreme Court Judge Robert Sewell wrote that allowing Desautel and other Sinixt members to hunt in the region is “consistent with the objective of reconciliation” established in Canadian civil law.

In March, a provincial court judge sided with Desautel following a nearly year-long trial.  Sewell’s decision rejects an appeal from British Columbia’s provincial government.

The Sinixt people’s traditional lands extend north from the reservation of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville to the Arrow Lakes region in the southern half of British Columbia.

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