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B.C. First Nations take action on top court’s land-title ruling

A totum pole in the village of kitwanga, B.C. part of the Gitxsan Nation November 11, 2009 who has put forward a proposal to abandoned their status under the Indian Act. Gitxsan Treaty Society has put forward a proposal to abandoned their status under the Indian Act.

JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

Two British Columbia First Nations are wasting no time enforcing their claim on traditional lands in light of a Supreme Court of Canada decision recognizing aboriginal land title.

The hereditary chiefs of the Gitxsan First Nations served notice on Thursday to CN Rail, logging companies and sport fishermen to leave their territory along the Skeena River in a dispute with the federal and provincial governments over treaty talks.

And the Gitxaala First Nation, which has territory on islands off the North Coast, announced its plan to file a lawsuit in the Federal Court of Appeal on Friday challenging Ottawa's recent approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta.

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The Kwikwetlem First Nation also added its voice to the growing list, claiming title to all lands associated with now-closed Riverview Hospital in Metro Vancouver along with other areas of its traditional territory.

The bands cite the recent high court ruling in Tsilhqot'in v. British Columbia.

"It's given us a bit of confidence that things are going to be going our way," said Clarence Innis, acting chief of the Gitxaala.

"I think that is a very strong message to Canada … not to ignore First Nations any more, but to consult."

About 250 kilometres northeast of the Gitxaala, the Gitxsan have given companies operating on their land until Aug. 4 to leave the 33,000 square kilometres of their territory along the Skeena River.

Because the government did not consult the band, the companies it has licensed are trespassing, said Gwaans Bev Clifton Percival, chief negotiator for the Gitxsan.

"The Supreme Court has come down with yet another ruling that advances our right and title," she said. "They [government] have to abide by the laws. We're prepared to negotiate."

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It was Gitxsan hereditary chief Delgamuukw whose 1997 legal victory recognized aboriginal title to unceded land in B.C.

The band has tried since then to negotiate with the Crown, but has not made any progress, Ms. Clifton Percival said. A short-term forestry agreement with the province expired in 2011 and there has been none since, she said.

CN Rail did not return a call for comment, but issued a brief e-mail statement.

"We have long standing, co-operative relationships with Gitxsan hereditary chiefs and we are currently in discussion with them about this matter," said Mark Hallman, director of communications.

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