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British Columbia Supreme Court reaffirms hunting rights of a Colville Tribal member

Rick Desautel, a wildlife damage control officers on the Colville Reservation, hauls a beaver trap to the water's edge Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at Twin Lakes on the Colville Reservation.  He is transporting groups of beavers from the lake area to streams where damage from grazing cattle can be mitigated by the beavers, which move in and build dams and return the natural features of a stream.  The trap Desautel uses for live trapping closes like a clamshell, holding the beavers until he returns.   JESSE TINSLEY jesset@spokesman.com (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Rick Desautel, a wildlife damage control officers on the Colville Reservation, hauls a beaver trap to the water's edge Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at Twin Lakes on the Colville Reservation. He is transporting groups of beavers from the lake area to streams where damage from grazing cattle can be mitigated by the beavers, which move in and build dams and return the natural features of a stream. The trap Desautel uses for live trapping closes like a clamshell, holding the beavers until he returns. JESSE TINSLEY jesset@spokesman.com (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The British Columbia Supreme Court reaffirmed Thursday the rights of a Colville Confederated Tribal member to hunt on aboriginal land.

In March, a lower court cleared charges against Rick Desautel, who was cited in 2010 for elk hunting near Castlegar, British Columbia, as a nonresident without a license. Desautel is a resident of Washington state. The British Columbia government appealed the provincial court ruling in April.

But the higher court dismissed the appeal, finding that the initial ruling was “consistent with the overarching goal of reconciliation,” according to a news release from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

Justice Robert Sewell wrote, “In my view, it would be inconsistent with that objective (reconciliation) to deny a right to a group that occupied the land in question in pre-contact times and continued to actively use the territory for some years after the imposition of the international boundary on them.”

Desautel, a member of the tribe, was charged by B.C. officials for hunting without a license and hunting as a nonresident during two incidents in 2010 and 2011. Desautel belongs to the tribe’s Arrow Lakes Band, also called the Sinixt, which once occupied land along the Columbia River into British Columbia. In the late 1800s, many Sinixt settled south of the U.S.-Canadian border.

Since 1956, the Canadian government has labeled the Sinixt band extinct, denying them formal First Nation recognition and clearing the way for large, hydroelectric dams on the British Columbia portion of the Columbia River. Under Canadian law, First Nation peoples have certain rights and protections.

“It’s another good day for all Sinixt people wherever they happen to live,” said Mark Underhill, Desautel’s attorney in an interview. “But certainly for the 3,500 plus who live on the Colville Nation.”

More was at stake in this case, Underhill said, because the Canadian government was arguing that “legally they (the Sinixt) didn’t exist anymore.”

“(It’s) another affirmation, it sounds silly to say, but that they exist,” Underhill said.

In a news release Desautel said he was “extremely pleased” with the decision. The ruling confirms “our indigenous traditions and natural laws.”

“The Canadian courts continue to recognize that our identity is inextricably connected to our hunting traditions, which have always had great spiritual and cultural significance to us,” Colville Tribal Chairman Michael Marchand said in a news release.

The Colville Tribes paid Desautel’s legal fees.

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