IN LATEST BID FOR JUSTICE THROUGH THE CANADIAN COURTS EXTINCT TRIBE (THE SINIXT) WAIT TO SEE IF COURTS WILL DECIDE IF THEY MUST PAY COURT COSTS FOR NOT ONLY BEING EXTINCT BUT MOOT AS WELL.
The Sinixt are a tribal group declared extinct by the Canadian government in 1956. The majority of the Sinixt were either disenfranchised by the Canadian government under the Indian Act laws in Canada or expelled south of the border to the Colville Tribe. (The Sinixt are extinct in Canada but are allowed to exist as one of eleven tribes rounded up and placed on the Colville reservation in the U.S.)
A small group of Sinixt have occupied their traditional territory in Canada for nearly 30 years when they returned to Canada in the mid 1980’s to repatriate ancestral remains that were dug up in a road building excavation in Vallican B.C. and hauled off to the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria. The Sinixt fought for the release of human remains and were the first tribal group in Canada to win the release of human remains in 1990. (To date, the Sinixt have repatriated and reburied 64 ancestral remains.) This small group lead by Sinixt elders began an occupation of an ancient village site at Vallican to protect ancestral burial sites and to re-establish their existence and to fight the declaration of extinction by the Canadian government.
The Sinixt are a tribal group that is commonly referred to as a trans-border group. 20% of their territory is located in the north eastern corner of Washington State in the U.S. AND 80% is located in south eastern British Columbia in Canada. This dual existence in two separate countries is complex in its own right but is further complicated by the fact that the Sinixt were declared extinct in Canada in 1956. The declared extinction took place just prior to the signing of the Columbia River Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. Further complexities include the B.C. treaty process, the resigning of the Columbia River Treaty in 2014, the Sinixt are being excluded from this process as well.
The Sinixt tribal group is led by cultural laws that demand a responsibility for the land, water and resources within their tribal territory that supersedes any uses that would damage sustainability of all species who inherited their existence within the territory and the vitality of the landscape as habitat for all species. Only after the responsibility of the cultural laws to the land are upheld, do the Sinixt have rights. The Sinixt traditional territory has suffered huge damages from damming of the Columbia River and its tributaries that destroyed the magnificent salmon runs on the Columbia River. The damming has also destroyed many of the archaeological and historical evidence on the Columbia River. This destruction of the archaeological sites makes documentation and protection of the remaining archaeological sites that much more urgent. The Sinixt have also seen mass destruction of vast amounts of their territory through other modes of development such as logging, mining and industry.
The Sinixt have gone many times to the courts to seek remedy to the differing aspects of their declared extinction including but not limited to:
- Challenge the courts to gain access to their northern territory to cross freely at the international border as a Sinixt’s right to practice their culture within their land in the Liebelt vs. Watt case;
- Challenge to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to reinstate the Sinixt as a Canadian tribe and to be recognized as a tribal group with rights in Canada; and
- Many challenges to stop development projects that would damage sustainability to the landscape and/or damage archaeological record and ancient burial sites
The most recent case involves the logging of the north end of Perry Ridge a much protested development in that it compromises threatened and endangered aquatic species in the Slocan and Little Slocan Rivers through sedimentation and damage to water quality. This development also damaged critical habitat for threatened land species within the development area including the western toad, wolverine, caribou, rubber boa and other species who are not threatened but utilize the landscape as their critical habitat. The development is also in an area where the Sinixt and the community have requested hazard mapping, terrain stability and hydrology studies to be completed due to the large incidents of land slides below development areas that have a high potential to endanger domestic water sheds and lives for those who live in the valley bottoms below development areas. The Sinixt filed a petition with the courts stating that consultation to the Sinixt was not met as a requirement for issuance of the logging license to Sunshine Logging. The courts were not allowed to rule on consultation as the Attorney General of B.C. interceded with a petition to challenge the standing of the Sinixt who filed the petition, saying that the court should dismiss the petition on consultation because the Sinixt are extinct and there is no way the court can know if those bringing the petition are the ‘right Indians’ who represent Sinixt interests, even though the petitioners named were the only Indians bringing forward concerns in regard to the territory, land, water, species. Judge Wilcox refused to consider the historical record of occupation and hardships and challenges weighing on the petitioners being declared extinct. Judge Wilcox decided that the Sinixt representatives had no standing to bring forward a petition therefore not entitled to consultation. The Sinixt appealed this decision and in the same fashion as the initial proceeding the Attorney General of B.C. petitioned the three appellant judges and asked them not to decide on the standing issue of the Sinixt to be consulted. The Attorney General asked the judges to declare the whole issue moot because the logging was already completed and deciding whether the Sinixt should be consulted or not is a non-issue. The three appellant judges upheld the moot order and declared that the Sinixt could bypass regular court proceedings in the future. If more development were to take place, the Sinixt could petition the courts again and ask for consultation. The Attorney General is now forwarding a petition to ask the courts to assess all court costs of these two judgments to be taken on by the petitioners on behalf of the extinct Sinixt. This cost hearing will take place on September 12 . There are two glaring issues: (i) the Sinixt have had to hold fundraisers to pay for their lawyer; and (ii) they are extinct in the view of the government of Canada and so do not receive any federal funding to assist with legal or administrative duties. All activities are conducted under severe hardship to those who conduct the work. This assessment of costs could potentially threaten personal property held by the petitioners (two of the Elders). If the assessment of costs is upheld by the courts, the Sinixt would be precluded from filing any further petitions in the court to ask for consultation or protection of the water and land until all court costs are paid. This ploy by the courts is another attempt not to answer the questions placed in front of the courts by tribal groups. The Sinixt are in a much more complex situation due to the fact that they have been declared extinct by the Canadian government. There are other tribal groups who are claiming Sinixt territory, but they are not present in the territory, are not declared extinct, and are not petitioning the courts on behalf of the land and water.
Marilyn james/appointed spokesperson
phone: 250-226-6726/email MarilynJames@hotmail.com