Specific Claims Tribunal hearings on expropriated Ahousaht lands resumes via Zoom

Denise Titian, October 6, 2020

Ahousaht Ha’wiih carry out protocols at the start of the Specific Claims Tribunal held in Ahousaht Apr. 30 to May 3, 2019. Elder David Frank explained to the Judge who the Ha’wiih (chiefs) are and what is rightfully theirs. From left to right: Chief John Keitlah Jr., the two grandsons of Maquinna, Harold Little Sr., speaker for Maquinna, Tyee Ha’wilth Maquinna (Lewis George) and Judge William Grist. (Denise Titian photo)

Ahousaht, BC — 

The Specific Claims Tribunal court action launched by Ahousaht against the Government of Canada over lands they say were wrongly taken from the nation will resume Oct. 7. The hearings will be shared remotely via the video conferencing application Zoom.

Ahousaht is seeking the return of land and/or compensation for specific parcels of property within their traditional territory that they say were wrongly taken by settlers or government.

Ahousaht Chief Councillor Greg Louie stated that the hearings will allow Ahousaht elders to be questioned in a manner that keeps them safe during the pandemic.

“We wanted to do it at the T-bird Hall (in Ahousaht) but the judge did not want to compromise anybody’s safety,” said Louie, noting the hazards of gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to court documents, Ahousaht filed the Additional Land Applications for Ahousaht Settlements Specific Claim with the Department of Indian Affairs in November 2011. The claim was made “in respect of breaches by Canada relating to the pre-emption of Indian settlements and fishing stations located on Blunden Island, Vargas Island, Flores Island, the head of Warn Bay on Bear River, Bare Island and Pretty Girl Cove”.

Ahousaht has fought for these sites for decades, claiming they were wrongfully expropriated. Historical records show that some of the homes located at the sites in question were either taken over by settlers who moved into Ahousaht-built houses while the owners were away, the homes were burnt down or otherwise destroyed.

From 1927 to 1951 the Indian Act prohibited the used of band funds to sue the government. As a result, claims by First Nations that Canada was failing to respect its commitments were largely ignored.

The Specific Claims Tribunal, established on Oct. 16, 2008, is part of the federal government’s Justice at Last policy. As a joint initiative with the Assembly of First Nations, the tribunal is aimed at accelerating the resolution of claims in order to provide justice for First Nations and certainty for government, industry and all Canadians.

The last SCT hearing was held in Ahousaht Apr. 30, 2019. The court heard testimony from Tyee Ha’wilth Maquinna (Lewis George) and from elder Louie Frank Sr.

Chief Louie said that in this continuation of the SCT hearing, lawyers will interview Ahousaht elders, gathering their knowledge on the location and history of Ahousaht territories.

Ahousaht members are invited to watch the proceedings via Zoom.

Only the lawyers, the judge and the witnesses will have the ability to speak during the hearing. There will be four Ahousaht witnesses sharing oral history about Jenny’s Beach, north of Ahousaht at Shelter Inlet.

In order to view the proceedings, you must install the Zoom application to your device. Email info@ahousaht.ca or visit the Ahousaht Facebook page for links and passcode to the hearings.

The hearings will take place Oct. 7-8 beginning at 10 a.m. each day.