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A view of Fish Lake, which is at the centre of a continuing dispute between B.C. first nations and Taseko Mines Ltd. The lake is 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake in the traditional territories of the Xeni Gwet'in First Nation.

Xeni Gwet'in First Nation

After a week-long road trip from B.C. to Ottawa, Roger William is looking forward to his day in court.

That will come Thursday, when the Supreme Court of Canada is scheduled to hear a case concerning Mr. William and other members of B.C.'s Tsilhqot'in Nation, who have spent more than 20 years fighting to prevent logging and other industrial activities on what they consider their land.

Mr. William, a Tsilhqot'in chief named as a plaintiff in the case, said he did not expect the dispute to last as long as it has or to wind up in the Supreme Court.

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"For me, I'm thinking of when we first started this fight with this declaration of 1989 where our people declared [there would be] no commercial logging, no commercial mining in our territory area," Mr. William said on Tuesday.

"It wasn't our plan to be here in the Supreme Court of Canada, but as we move forward trying to work together under provincial and federal legislation, we have ended up here."

The case concerns Tsilhqot'in claims to more than 4,000 square kilometres of land west of Williams Lake.

The court case was launched to oppose proposed logging activities in the region.

In 2007, a B.C. Supreme Court judge offered an opinion that aboriginal title existed inside and outside the claim area but, citing technical reasons, stopped short of declaring the title into law.

A subsequent decision by the B.C. Court of Appeal took a narrower view, finding that title could not be claimed with sweeping claims based on limited use.

The Tsilhqot'in appealed and the Supreme Court of Canada in January agreed to hear the case.

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In court documents, lawyers representing Mr. William argue that the "[B.C.] Court of Appeal's ruling is one of expedience and convenience. … To reduce the Aboriginal title held by First Nations, by virtue of their original possession of their ancestral lands, to rights of exclusive possession over individual salt licks and particularly effective fishing rocks makes a mockery of Aboriginal title."

In preparation for the case, Mr. William and other plaintiffs drove in a bus from B.C. to the nation's capital, stopping to meet with supporters along the way.

The case is being heard as the federal government weighs the fate of the proposed New Prosperity mine.

The project, backed by Vancouver-based Taseko Mines, would be a $1-billion copper-gold mine about 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake.

The Tsilhqot'in National Government, representing six Tsilhqot'in bands, has long opposed the mine.

In 2010, Ottawa rejected the mine as it was then designed. Taseko then submitted a new design. On Oct. 31, a three-person federal review panel flagged significant concerns with the project. Ottawa now has four months to make a decision on the mine.

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"We have been fighting the Prosperity mine since the early 1990s," Mr. William said. "We have been involved in fighting both issues."

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