The Gitksan-Wet'suwet'en land claims challenge, Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, reached the Supreme Court in 1997. The decision, handed down in December of 1997, overturned much of the ruling made by Justice McEachern six years earlier. Ruling that the lower court judge had made an error in dismissing relevant and significant testimony, the Supreme Court ordered a new trial on the specific claim to lands in northern B.C. The testimony McEachern had refused to consider was oral history offered by the Gitksan-Wet'suwet'en chiefs as evidence of their long-standing use and occupancy of the territory. The court went further than this, however, in considering the question of Aboriginal title, which was designated among those "existing aboriginal rights" guaranteed in the constitution. The court ruled that although Aboriginal title was not ownership, it did convey certain rights to the Native claimants. The court expanded these rights from straightforward use of the land for fishing or hunting purposes to an acknowledgment of a particular interest in the land. Therefore, the court asserted that the Crown should use these lands only in ways that were acceptable or compatible with the interests of the relevant Native peoples. Under compelling circumstances, which might include logging ventures, the federal or provincial government might infringe on such title, but even then the court established that the Natives concerned would have to be consulted and compensated. The Supreme Court allowed for a new trial in Delgamuukw, but suggested that a solution to that specific problem be sought through negotiation rather than litigation. The broader implications of the court's decision have strengthened the hand of Native land claims, which already encompass most of the province, an inducement, perhaps, for British Columbia to commit itself to a solution satisfactory to all parties.

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