In a highly publicized case last June, the Supreme Court ruled that the Tsilhqot’in Nation had proven that it has aboriginal title to a 1,750-square-kilometre area of the B.C. interior. The most significant part of that complex ruling is that any third party wishing to extract resources, such as a logging company, now requires the consent of the First Nation. Aboriginal groups hailed that case as a game changer. While the ruling in its most narrow sense only grants aboriginal title to the Tsilhqot’in Nation, it also sets a precedent for any other First Nation that have not ceded its territory by treaty and which can prove in court that it had a historic and exclusive jurisdiction over a swath of land.
Shortly after the Supreme Court decision in the Tsilhqot’in case, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets told clients that the ruling could have as big an impact on B.C. forest industry as the pine beetle devastation, according to the Vancouver Sun. If the ruling limits logging in B.C., it could tighten the lumber supply and raise prices, analyst Paul Quinn said.
However, in a column that Vancouver economist Roslyn Kunin wrote for Troy Media shortly after the ruling, her forecast wasn’t nearly so dire. “Businesses will have to listen and come up with adequate responses to First Nations issues and concerns.” she wrote. “They will have to start using the good economic tool of cost/benefit analysis to show that any incremental activity will be of net advantage to the First Nation on whose territory it occurs.”
In July, in what is called the Grassy Narrows case, the High Court concluded that an Ontario First Nation does not have aboriginal title to Crown land in Ontario because it surrendered that right in an 1873 treaty.
David Lindsay, President and CEO of Forest Products Association of Canada, acknowledged that the Tsilquotin and Grassy Narrows decisions by the Supreme Court will require different approaches to forest tenure. But, he said, “it has been ever thus” in Canada. Each province has its own tenure system based on its history and settlement patterns. For example, in Atlantic Canada, where settlement goes back more 250 years, much more of the land is privately owned than in B.C. “In Quebec it’s a different system. In Ontario, it’s a different system,” Mr. Lindsay said. “So we have a patchwork or a variety of tenure systems across the country already.” But the most important thing he wanted to stress is that forest companies have “a very good record of working with First Nations across the country,” Mr. Lindsay said, noting that 20 per cent of the forestry work force in Saskatchewan and Manitoba are First Nations people. “Our member companies want to work with First Nations.”