Anglican Church welcomes court decision on native land claims

TORONTO (Dec. 12, 1997) — The Anglican Church welcomes the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling recognizing the rights of native peoples to the ownership of ancestral lands that have not specifically been signed away through treaties.

The ruling overturned a previous British Columbia ruling dealing with land claims by the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en people. The Supreme Court ruled that the trial judge erred in not recognizing the validity of native peoples’ oral history and ordered a new trial.

Donna Bomberry, the Anglican Church’s Coordinator of Indigenous Ministries, said she hopes the decision will open up a new era in the way governments deal with native land claims.

She added that because of the level at which the ruling was made, it is likely to have repercussions on many other land claims throughout the country.

“I feel elated,” Ms. Bomberry said. “It is a real breakthrough in the way land rights issues should be handled.”

Catherine Morrison, the Anglican Church’s Coordinator of Indigenous Justice, said that with this ruling, Canada recognizes the value of the history and culture of native people. The decision, she added refutes the trial judge’s statement that “aboriginal life in the territory was at best nasty, brutish and short.”

“With this ruling, we are seeing a level of respect for aboriginal peoples that has not existed since the first settlers were welcomed to this country,” Ms. Morrison said.

Last spring, the Anglican Council of General Synod passed a resolution expressing its support for the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en people in its battle through the courts. The church has also supported them through the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, its EcoJustice Committee and the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.

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