The long-standing grievances of the Nisga'a people of B.C. over title to their lands reached the Supreme Court in 1973, with results that had  profound implications for Aboriginal rights in Canada. The Nisga'a case challenged the decision in St. Catharine's Milling, which had insisted that the Royal Proclamation was the legal basis of Aboriginal title. The Nisga'a demanded recognition of the fact that they held Aboriginal title independent of the British proclamation and that that title had never been extinguished. The Supreme Court divided on the question as to whether the Nisga'a retained title to the land, but it did not rule out the idea of Aboriginal title based on occupancy and use rather than on the Royal Proclamation. In spite of losing the case on the technicality of not having obtained permission from the attorney general of B.C. to launch the law suit, the Nisga'a challenge had won some major concessions from the court in that the judgement effectively overturned the St. Catharine's Milling decision. The decision had the immediate impact of halting the James Bay hydroelectric project in Quebec, where Native opponents were able to claim that title to the affected lands had never been extinguished. Subsequent negotiations led to  the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. The Calder decision was also acknowledged by Prime Minister Trudeau as a factor in his reconsideration of the fundamental and objectionable premises of the controversial White Paper; his government then began to put in place a lands claims policy.

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Chinook Multimedia

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