It was becoming clear that the old treaties with Canada, including Treaty 11, were no longer working for Aboriginal people. Promises of care and services were not being kept, and Aboriginal rights were being interfered with.
In 1968, Tlicho assembled in Behchoko, and together refused to accept Treaty payments. The boycott signaled a growing movement. The Aboriginal people of the North were beginning to question the fairness of their Treaties, and assert their Aboriginal Rights and Title.
Beginning in 1962 a number of important legal cases, like Sikyea, Calder and the Caveat Decision confirmed the existance of Aboriginal Title and Rights, and rejected the idea that they had been extinguished by Treaties. A movement had started that would soon lead to the negotiation of comprehensive land claims agreements.
SIKYEA V. THE QUEEN
On May 7th, 1962, the RCMP charged Michel Sikyea with hunting out of season after he had shot a duck near Yellowknife. Michel Sikyea told the police that he had a Treaty right to hunt at all times of the year.
At his first trial, Judge Sisson declared that the Migratory Birds Convention Act did not apply to Aboriginal people, and that Sikyea was not guilt of any offence. The decision was appealed, and it was decided that the Act did apply to Aboriginal people.
Sikyea and his lawyers then brought a legal action against Canada demanding that all the land his people had surrendered through Treaty be returned. They argued that if Aboriginal peope with a Treaty could not hunt without restriction, then all the promises made under the Treaty had been broken. The legal action did not go forward, but it was a big step towards bringing about the modern treaty process.
Official Court Transcript: SIKYEA V. THE QUEEN
CALDER V. THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF B.C.
Calder v. The Attorney General of B.C.
Frank Calder, along with other Nisga’a chiefs brought a legal action to declare that their Aboriginal rights and title in British Columbia had never been legally extinguished and remained intact to this day.
In 1973, the Supreme Court of Canada gave its decision. All the judges recognized that the Nisga’a had Aboriginal rights and title in the past. Half the judges stated that the rights had been extinguished by laws of Canada and Britain. The other half disagreed, finding that the Nisga’a still had their Aboriginal rights and title. The case was dismissed on a technicality, but it put heavy political pressure on the Government to begin settling Aboriginal claims.
Official Court Transcript: CALDER V. THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF B.C.
THE BERGER INQUIRY
In 1974, Justice Thomas Berger began his hearings into the social, environmental and economic impact of the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline.
In his Report, he noted that the Aboriginal people he heard from were clear that they would not accept a pipeline until their land claims were settled.
THE CAVEAT DECISION – PAULETTE ET AL. V. THE QUEEN
In 1973, a group of Dene Chief’s brought a legal action to put a “caveat” on the title for much of the land covered by Treaty 8 and Treaty 11. They argued that Aboriginal people believed that they were signing peace treaties with Canada, not that they were surrendering their Aboriginal rights and title. The caveat would restrict development until these issues were resolved.
Justice Morrow carried out a long fact finding process, speaking to elders in many communities throughout the Mackenzie Valley. He concluded that the people who signed Treaty did not intend to give up their land and rights, and that they still had all their Aboriginal rights and title in the lands covered by Treaty 8 and 11.
The case was dismissed in the Supreme Court of Canada on a technicality, but it was another step in pushing for settlement of Aboriginal land claims.
Official Court Transcript: THE CAVEAT DECISION – PAULETTE ET AL. V. THE QUEEN