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Tribe Claims Cross-Border Rights as Hunting Violations Head to Canadian Court

Kootenayvolcano CC-BY-SA
The site of an ancient Sinixt village in British Columbia.

A case against a Washington state man in a British Columbia court that begins Monday could bring an extinct Canadian tribe back to life. 

The last member of the Sinixt  people in Canada died  in 1953. The Canadian government deemed the tribe “extinct” and reclaimed their land. The Sinixt still have federal recognition in the United States, however. 

Among the nearly 2,500 members who live on the Colville Reservation in northeast Washington is Rick Desautel, who traveled north of the U.S. border in 2010 and 2011, to hunt for elk and deer on what he believes are his traditional hunting grounds.

“Yeah, it was a conscious plan," he said. He  fully knew he would violate provincial law. 

“We notified our people that if you hunt in Canada we sanction it, we approve it and if you get into legal problems, the tribe will support you," said Dr. Michael Marchand, the chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

The point they want to make: the Sinixt are alive and well and have the right to hunt on traditional grounds, regardless of the U.S.-Canada border.

Desautel has been charged with hunting without a license and hunting as a non-resident, both violations of provincial law in British Columbia.

Because of the complicated nature of the case, and the jurisdictions involved, it has taken six years for the case to go to trial.