Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
00000179-65ef-d8e2-a9ff-f5ef8df50000In 1956, the last surviving member of the Sinixt tribe in Canada passed away. The Sinixt became the only tribe officially deemed “extinct” by the Canadian government. Today, Roughly 4,000 Sinixt tribal members live on the Reservation of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville in northeastern Washington state.In 2010, a Washington state man who is also a descendent of the Sinixt, crossed the 49th parallel to hunt for elk on the tribe’s traditional hunting grounds in southern British Columbia. He was charged with hunting as a non-resident and without a permit.Both a trial judge and a Provincial Supreme Court judge have acquitted him of the charges. His case has become a long-running battle over sovereign rights.

Sinixt Tribe Face British Columbia Appeal In Sovereign Rights Ruling

Rick Desautel, of Inchelium, Washington, was present with his wife and daughter in Provincial court in Nelson, BC, for the final judgement in a seven-year case brought against him by the Canadian government.
Emily Schwing
Emily Schwing / NW News Network
Rick Desautel of Inchelium, Washington, center, was accused of illegal hunting after he crossed into Canada in 2010 to hunt for elk on the traditional hunting grounds of the Sinixt tribe in Canada.

British Columbia’s government has taken the next step in a long running legal dispute with an Indian tribe in Washington state.

The case dates back to 2009 when Washington resident and defendant Rick Desautel knowingly hunted elk illegally in British Columbia.

In March, the Provincial Court there ruled that members of the Sinixt tribe, like Desautel, could still hunt on traditional grounds in Canada.

The tribe and their attorney, Mark Underhill expected the Canadian government’s appeal. ?? “We came into this case knowing that -- well at least I can speak for myself -- I’d have a bit more gray hair by the time it was done,” Underhill said.

In the original case, the government argued that when members of the Sinixt tribe moved onto the reservation of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville in Washington state, they gave up sovereign rights in Canada. The government maintains that argument in their appeal. ? ?

Underhill expects it to be heard in Nelson, British Columbia, this fall.

“The focus seems to be on the proposition that Rick Desautel and many of the Sinixt living today are residents of the United States, they are American citizens and the government says they simply can’t have aboriginal rights in Canada anymore,” Underhill said. “They say that’s inconsistent with the Canadian constitution and with notions of Canadian sovereignty.”??

The Sinixt were deemed extinct in Canada in 1956, after its last Canadian member passed away, so the Provincial Court Judge Lisa Mrozinki’s ruling also revived the tribe itself. They are also known as the Arrow Lakes Band.