Author Tags: Aboriginal Authors
The claim to ownership of approximately 22,000 square miles (or 58,000 square kilometres) in northwestern British Columbia by the Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en peoples first entered the courts in 1984 with the filing of the statement of claim. This high profile case was brought before B.C. Supreme Court Judge Allan MacEachern in 1987 and was heard over 374 days, ending in the spring of 1990.
Partially due to a ban imposed on courtroom photography, Don Monet of Hazelton attempted to capture the soul of the three-and-a-half-year-long sovereignty case with a collection of cartoons, portraits and sketches. These were combined with the notes and transcripts of Gitksan writer Skanu’u (Ardythe Wilson) for Colonialism on Trial: Indigenous Land Rights and the Gitksan Wet’suwet’en Sovereignty Case (1991).
Lawyers Stuart Rush and David Paterson at first argued unsuccessfully on behalf of Ken Muldoe (also known as Delgamuukw) and the Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en. Judge MacEachern ruled that Aboriginal rights in general exist at the “pleasure of the Crown” (accepting the Judgement in R. v. St. Catherine’s Milling and Lumber Company ) and are therefore extinguishable “whenever the intention of the Crown to do so is clear and plain.”
MacEachern dismissed the evidence of academic experts who included Hugh Brody, Arthur Ray, Antonia Mills and Richard Daly. “The anthropologists add little to the important questions that must be decided in this case,” he declared. MacEachern referred to Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan to characterize the lives of Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en ancestors as being essentially “nasty, brutish and short,” and therefore too primitive to constitute an organized culture.
“The unique thing about about our nations is that we weren't nomadic nations,” Ardythe Wilson says. “We were settled in ancient villages.” Wilson’s viewpoint has ultimately prevailed with the ratification of the Nisga’a Treaty in 2000, invalidating Judge MacEachern’s earlier findings.
The full legal description for the case before MacEachern was as follows:
British Columbia. Supreme Court. In the Supreme Court of British Columbia between Delgamuukw, also known as Ken Muldoe, suing on his own behalf and on behalf of all the members of the House of Delgamuukw, and others, plaintiffs, and Her Majesty the Queen in right of the province of British Columbia and the Attorney General of Canada, defendants : reasons for judgment / of the Honourable Chief Justice Allan McEachern (Smithers, B.C.: Smithers Registry, Supreme Court of B.C., 1991)
It was re-argued as:
British Columbia. Supreme Court. Court of Appeal for British Columbia between Delgamuukw, also known as Earl Muldoe, suing on his own behalf and on behalf of all the members of the Houses of Delgamuukw and Haaxw (and others suing on their own behalf and on behalf of members of thirty eight Gitksan Houses and twelve Wet'suwet'en Houses as shown in schedule 1), plaintiffs, and Her Majesty the Queen in right of the province of British Columbia and the Attorney General of Canada, defendants : reasons for judgement Vancouver Registry, Supreme Court of B.C., 1993)
Skanu'u (Ardythe Wilson) & Don Monet. Colonialism on Trial: Indigenous Land Rights and the Gitksan Wet'suwet'en Sovereignty Case (Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers, 1991).
Skanu'u (Art Wilson). Heartbeat of the Earth: A First Nations Artist Records Injustice and Resistance (Gabriola: New Society, 1996). Foreword by Buffy Sainte-Marie.