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Local hunter acquitted of hunting charges

Sinixt tribe recognized by Canada

 


A landmark court ruling in Nelson, British Columbia. states that members of the Arrow Lakes (Sinixt) tribe are now allowed to hunt on their traditional lands, where their ancestors had hunted for thousands of years prior to European contact. The ruling also established that the Sinixt tribe is not extinct, which they never were.

Richard Desautel, who lives in Inchelium on the Colville Indian Reservation and is a member of the Sinixt tribe, also known as the Arrow Lakes tribe, was acquitted of charges in Canada on March 27 of hunting without a license and of hunting without being a Canadian citizen. Desautel had been charged after killing an elk near Castlegar, B.C., in 2010, and the case had gone on for nearly seven years since then.

Michael Marchand, chairman of the Colville Confederated Tribes, and one of the Sinixt witnesses who testified at trial, said the Colville Tribes have worked through the years to reestablish the Sinixt in Canada, including asking Desautel to participate in the hunting test case planned to force the province into court, the Tribal Tribune reported.

The Canadian federal government had declared the Sinixt tribe extinct in 1956, despite an estimated 3,000-4,000 members being alive today. Sinixt traditional lands spanned an area between Washington state and British Columbia long before the establishment of a border between the two nations, and the tribe had been coerced into going south, after an influx of miners and loggers flooded their lands in the 1800s, where they would become one of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

After hearing from members of the Sinixt tribe, Mrozinski Judge Lisa Mrozinski ruled that Desautel, and all Sinixt members, have an aboriginal right to hunt on the traditional lands of their ancestors.

Mrozinski said at the end of the trial, preceded by a lengthy explanation of her ruling, “I have found in this case that when Mr. Desautel hunted the cow-elk near Castlegar, British Columbia, on October 1, 2010, he was exercising an aboriginal right; that is the aboriginal right of the Sinixt/Lakes people to hunt in their traditional territory here in what is now British Columbia as they had done for several thousand years before contact” with non-native people.

Desautel commented in a tribal press release that the decision “is of tremendous spiritual importance to all Sinixt people, and is entirely consistent with our indigenous and natural laws. I look forward to further strengthening our ties to our Canadian traditional territory and with the people of British Columbia.”

Marchand stated: “Today’s ruling closes a dark chapter in the history of the Sinixt. We are very pleased that our history and identity, which are tied up in the spiritual and cultural significance of hunting, have finally been recognized by the Canadian courts, and while we know that further court proceedings lie ahead, we intend to begin a new chapter by focusing on the process of reconciliation and finding our proper place within Canadian society.”

Mark Underhill, lead counsel for Desautel, added, “This decision affirms a simple but fundamentally important principle — no law, government policy or even international border can erase Aboriginal identity. All Sinixt people, regardless of where they now live, can finally start to feel whole again.”

“There’s all sorts of interesting little practical little legal issues we will have to wrestle with in the months ahead and an inevitable appeal I am sure,” Underhill told Northwest Public Radio. “But as a practical matter, [Sinixt members] can come up here and at a minimum practice their traditional right to hunt.”

“Tradition, honor, and the history of where we came from were the basis of the decision,” Desautel told the Nelson Star outside the courthouse following the ruling.

With their existence now acknowledged in Canada, the Sinixt can also look toward more issues, such as a land claim in Canada, according to Marchand.

“I plan to hunt in Canada again once the Fish and Wildlife makes up the hunting regulations for 2017 and the councils pass them,” Desautel said.

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