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Aboriginal and Treaty Rights

Leaders in Aboriginal rights and title and Treaty rights

Our lawyers have been involved in some of the most significant cases and developments that have advanced the rights of First Nations people in Canada. We continue to seek recognition of our clients’ Aboriginal rights through the courts, negotiations and the treaty process.

We represented First Nations in negotiations leading to the adoption of s. 35 into the Constitution in 1982 and since then we have been involved in significant cases including Sparrow, Delgamuukw, Haida Nation, and Tsilhqot’in.

In Ahousaht Nation v. Canada, we were legal counsel for five First Nations who, for the first time in Canadian legal history, established broad-based Aboriginal rights to fish commercially for multiple species of fish in their territories off the West Coast of Vancouver Island. In Blueberry River First Nations v. British Columbia (also known as Yahey v. British Columbia) we are seeking to prove a large-scale infringement of Treaty 8 rights in Northeast BC and help ensure that any future industrial development in that area is done in a way to protect those Treaty rights.

We have advanced the Aboriginal rights and title of our First Nation clients in a wide range of land claims and consultation and accommodation matters, resulting in successful court decisions, return of significant lands to our clients, and agreements that bring considerable economic and cultural benefits.

Notable Experience

  • Saik’uz and Stellat’en First Nations v. Rio Tinto Alcan – Aboriginal rights and title claim in the BC Supreme Court seeking to restore flows and fisheries in the Nechako River that was dammed by Rio Tinto Alcan in the 1950s.
  • Blueberry River First Nations v. British Columbia – A comprehensive Treaty 8 infringement claim in BC Supreme Court seeking to protect treaty lands and rights from further industrial development in Northeast BC.
  • Ahousaht et al. v. Canada – Major litigation proving an Aboriginal right for several Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations to fish commercially for any species of fish in First Nations’ traditional fishing territories on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, proving an infringement of that right, and responding to Crown’s claims to justification of that infringement.
  • Thomas et al. v. Canada – A claim in the British Columbia Supreme Court to the lands on which the Provincial Legislature sits in Victoria, resulting in a multi-million dollar settlement for two Victoria First Nations.
  • Squamish Indian Band v. Canadian Pacific – Claim for land in Kitsilano Point area of Vancouver against the Canadian Pacific Railway resulting in the return to the Squamish Nation of 10 acres of the former Kitsilano Indian Reserve – the Squamish Nation village of Sen̓áḵw – in the Kitsilano Point area of Vancouver.
  • Mathias (Squamish Nation) v. Canada – Claim for land in Kitsilano near downtown Vancouver resulting in a multi-million dollar settlement after (what was then) the longest trial in Federal Court history.
  • Coldwater Indian Band v. Canada, 2017 – Proved that the Government of Canada breached its fiduciary duty obligation to the Coldwater Indian Band when it approved the transfer of the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline easement through Coldwater’s reserve.
  • Tsawwassen First Nation v. Vancouver Port Authority – A claim against the Crown, the Roberts Bank Port and BC Ferries for unlawful interference with Tsawwassen First Nations’ riparian rights on their reserve, resulting in a multi-million dollar settlement.
  • Participated as counsel in many leading aboriginal rights cases in the Supreme Court of Canada including Sparrow, Delgamuukw, Haida Nation, Osoyoos Band v. Oliver, R. v. Kapp, and Tsilhqot’in.

Related Insights

Structuring First Nations Economic Development

More and more aboriginal governments are investing, and are directly involved, in for profit business ventures. Brent Lehmann outlines considerations for First Nation governments for participating in mainstream economic development.

Treaty Closing and Implementation Activities

Once a treaty has been negotiated, there are numerous activities that must be completed in order to “close” and then “implement” the treaty. Brent Lehmann provides insights on activities required of a first nation relating to the closing and implementation of their treaty.

Development of Aboriginal lands: Successes, risks and environmental concerns respecting contaminated sites

This paper provides an overview of the most common land management regimes that govern development and environmental management on First Nations lands in B.C., discusses the successes and challenges First Nations face with respect to the current policy based regime that applies to contaminated sites on most Indian reserves in B.C. and proposes strategies for moving forward as the options for development and protection of the environment on First Nations lands expand.

Ready when you are

Our lawyers offer a broad range of experience and expertise, with a client-first philosophy to help you achieve your goals.

Ready when you are

Our lawyers offer a broad range of experience and expertise, with a client-first philosophy to help you achieve your goals.