Supreme Court of Canada decision relevant to Manitoba First Nations, says Grand Chief

February 2, 2018

Treaty One Territory, Manitoba


February 2, 2018

Treaty One Territory _ The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed that the Crown breached its fiduciary obligations in the case Williams Lake Indian Band v Canada. It is the first appeal from the Specific Claims Tribunal to reach the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs intervened in the case to argue that the Canadian law on fiduciary obligations of the Crown should be consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which prioritizes the protection of Indigenous lands, and that if any replacement lands are offered, they must be of similar size and quality.

“The highest court in Canadian law has reaffirmed that the Crown has an obligation to protect Indigenous lands,” said Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.

“This decision is particularly relevant in Manitoba, where many of our reserve lands and harvesting areas have been taken from us in various ways, like the flooding of First Nations’land.”

The Crown promised Williams Lake Indian Band in B.C., that a reserve would be set up for them in their village site. However, as settlers poured in and took land, the Crown neglected to establish the reserve. As a result, the First Nation was displaced from their lands. They were eventually put in a reserve at some distance from their village. The Crown refused to try to get their lands back. It also did not look at whether the replacement lands it chose would be of similar size or quality as the original village lands.

The Supreme Court of Canada split on a number of issues, but a majority agreed that the Crown had breached its fiduciary obligations in this case.

“We are treaty partners with Canada. If they want to have reconciliation with First Nations then they must work with us in a meaningful way, including through repatriation of our lands whenever possible.”