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Sinixt to celebrate landmark court decision in Nelson

Nearly 14 months after the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the right of Sinixt people to hunt in their traditional territory in Canada, a public ceremony and celebration will be held in Nelson.

“It is important to publicly recognize the sacrifice and commitment of Rick Desautel and our ancestors who are responsible for this historic decision,” said Andy Joseph Jr., the chair of both the Sn̓ ʕaýckstx (Sinixt) Confederacy and the Colville Confederated Tribes.

“It’s also a critically important step in the healing process for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities which will move us away from our histories of colonization and displacement toward meaningful reconciliation.

“Particularly as Nelson is celebrating its 125th anniversary, this ceremony and celebration provides an important moment to acknowledge and reflect on our shared history.”

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Joseph says they would have liked to hold the celebration much sooner, but COVID and ironically, border restrictions, got in the way.

In 2010, as part of a test case, Desautel, who lives in Washington state, shot an elk on the Sinixt’s traditional territory in Canada and was charged with hunting without a license.

The trial judge acquitted him, and subsequently the BC Supreme Court, BC Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court of Canada all agreed the Sinixt are aboriginal peoples of Canada with a constitutionally protected right to hunt in this country, even though the majority now live in the United States. The final ruling came on April 23, 2021.

“For Sinixt descendants wherever they live, it is the most important moment in our recent history,” Joseph said.

To the Sinixt Confederacy, the decision reverses a 1956 declaration by the federal government that the Sinixt were extinct in Canada. However, other observers say the ruling should not be interpreted that broadly.

Regardless, Joseph said the the Desautel ruling is “one of the most important decisions in Indigenous law on both sides of the border. It will have significant impacts on how we deal with the border and even the concept of citizenship.”

He said the decision confirms the Sinixt were not born in Canada, but Canada was born from their lands and the international border crosses them, not the other way around.

He said the ceremony includes a spiritual component for the Sinixt, as the decision recognized their identity comes from the land, animals, fish, and medicines on which they continue to rely.

“The ceremony is medicine for us. The reconciliation process starts with the truth. Everyone needs to understand the Desautel decision and its implications for the Sinixt people to engaging in a meaningful reconciliation process.

“I’m really grateful to relay our feelings about winning the decision. The reconnection with our homelands is a real healing to our people.”

Joseph estimates there are 3,000 to 4,000 people of Sinixt ancestry living in the U.S. and Canada, and noted his own grandmother is buried in Canada.

The celebration will be held on June 10 and consists of the following:

• 11 a.m. Community lunch at the Rotary Shelter in Lakeside Park
• 12 p.m. Ceremony and celebration
• 5 p.m. Unveiling of mural at 685 Baker St. by artist Ric Gendron
• 6 p.m. Community dinner at the Prestige Lakeside banquet room, hosted by Touchstones Nelson Museum
• 7:30 p.m. Music by celebrated Sinixt artist Tony Louie at the Capitol Theatre
• 8:30 p.m. World premiere of Older Than the Crown by Sinixt filmmaker Derrick J. Lamere, followed by Q&A session

Everyone is welcome to attend.

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