LETTER: Government’s appeal in Sinixt case dumbfounding

From reader Stevland Ambrose

Re: “Supreme Court of Canada agrees to hear Sinixt rights case,” Oct. 24

The province received much praise last week for introducing a bill that will ensure all provincial laws are aligned with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

And yet I am writing to express my strong disapproval of the BC government’s continued court battles with the Sinxit (Arrow Lakes) peoples of the West Kootenay.

The attorney-general’s ministry is currently pursuing a Supreme Court of Canada case against U.S. citizen Richard Desautel for hunting without a licence and hunting without being a resident.

I am dumbfounded as to why the government feels that this trial would be in anyone’s best interest.

Is government still pursuing its disingenuous “the Sinixt left this area voluntarily” argument?

If yes, is the further argument being put forward that, having “left voluntarily,” the Sinixt gave up their Indigenous rights to hunt for food, social and/or ceremonial purposes in the Canadian portion of their traditional territory?

If the answer to both these questions is yes, then I am thoroughly disgusted with the actions of this government and, specifically, the attorney-general’s office.

There is ample evidence the Sinixt are a distinct cultural group who speak an Interior Salish language, and have existed in this area for hundreds if not thousands of years. The B.C. Supreme Court has already recognized this.

There is also ample evidence they were put under considerable pressure to leave this area.

I propose that future historians will point out how incredibly convenient it was for the settler culture (us) that the Sinixt had become mostly invisible to us and declared by us to be “extinct” before the Columbia River Treaty was signed.

After all that the Sinixt have lost — and all that we have benefited — how appalling is it that we are fighting their descendants over whether they have the right to hunt a few animals in their traditional territory.

It is my view that the government must seek the most expedient remedy for past injustices perpetrated against the people who were displaced when the West Kootenay was settled.

I expect I will soon receive a reply from the attorney-general’s office stating that it cannot “comment on a case that is before the courts.” My preference, however, is to receive a message stating that they are taking steps to reverse the 1956 “extinct” declaration, and to push the government to immediately begin any and all land claims and reconciliation processes with the Sinixt Nation.

Stevland Ambrose


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