Sinixt Tribe Face British Columbia Appeal In Sovereign Rights Ruling

Apr 28, 2017

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.