Lax Kw’alaams amend claim

The Allied Tribes of the Lax Kw’alaams have amended their September 2015 notice of civil claim for aboriginal rights and title

The Allied Tribes of the Lax Kw’alaams have amended their September 2015 notice of civil claim against defendants the federal government, the Province, Pacific NorthWest LNG, the Prince Rupert Port Authority (PRPA) and the Metlakatla Band for land rights and title on the North Coast.

In a Supreme Court of B.C. claim stamped Feb. 24 by the Vancouver Registry, many statements of facts, mostly relating to geographic area and terminology, have been amended, as well as relief sought, including an added item stating that project proponents in the Lax Kw’alaams “claim area must first include the Band in the siting and planning process and accommodate the Band’s concerns”.

Also, the plaintiff has been updated from former Lax Kw’alaams Mayor Garry Reece to current Mayor John Helin, representing himself and all members of the Allied Tribes of the Lax Kw’alaams.

In the claim, the plaintiffs are seeking a court declaration transferring aboriginal rights and title of all lands within the Prince Rupert harbour and on the Port Edward waterfront to the Lax Kw’alaams, including the mouth of the Skeena River.

The amended ‘relief sought’ section of the civil claim includes an item stating “the administrative schemes established by Canada and British Columbia for the assessment and approval of projects affecting the environment are invalid insofar as they fail to provide for the accommodation of the rights and concerns of the plaintiffs”.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has stated that it has involved First Nations dialogue through every step of its environmental evaluation process and specific dealings with the Lax Kw’alaams Band are evidenced in the draft report.

The Lax Kw’alaams seek aboriginal title to the “claim area”, which is outlined as far north as the Nass Harbour, as far east as Terrace and Kitimat, as far south as Hartley Bay, and as far west as Dundas Island and Stephens Island —  incorporating a far broader scope than the original September claim.

The Band is also seeking “exclusive aboriginal rights to fish in their traditional territory”, “the recovery of the ‘Project Area’ (Lelu Island and the surrounding area) based on their aboriginal title to the ‘Project Area’”, and are seeking the “claimed declaratory relief based on their aboriginal rights and title”.

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen mentioned last week that the claim isn’t anything out of the ordinary, but it will be in the historical evidence that the claim gets its merit.

“There has been claims made [in the past]. My general perspective on the port areas — they’re the areas often in contention. Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla have the strongest traditional and proven territorial rights and those are the communities predominantly we deal with … The strength of the claim is always what is sought in the end, to understand from a court, who has the strongest historical claim because in many parts of the north, several different groups have used that land over time — that’s not really the question — the question is who has hereditary title over the land. So that’s why I would imagine Lax Kw’alaams is seeking this clarity as they go ahead,” Cullen said.

Representatives from Pacific NorthWest LNG, the PRPA and Metlakatla Band all stated they were aware of the claim but declined to comment as the proceedings are an active legal matter.

Mayor Helin could not be reached for comment.


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