Adams Lake Indian Band and Sun Peaks are both claiming victory in a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that the provincial government failed to meaningfully consult the band over municipal incorporation.
In an 80-page judgment handed down Friday, Madame Justice Catherine Bruce found the province had breached its constitutional duty in not accommodating the interests of the band.
She also said the government had been unreasonable in the way it conducted consultations. That puts the onus on the province to resume negotiations in good faith in a dispute that dates back almost 20 years.
Chief Nelson Leon said Monday he hopes the province doesn't appeal the ruling so that they can return to the negotiating table.
"It's a fair bit of relief that we've made this leap forward with respect to title and rights," Leon said. "We ourselves need to sit down and reflect on the decision."
Mayor Al Raine of Sun Peaks doesn't see it as a complete victory for Adams Lake since the band had sued the province with the goal of having incorporation set aside.
"We wanted to ensure the judge didn't quash the municipality," which could have created chaos, Raine said. "Quashing the municipality at this late date would cause all sorts of damage to third parties."
The municipality itself is one of those third parties, having not been a party to negotiations between the B.C. government and the band prior to incorporation eight months ago.
"I was never even invited, nor did anybody tell me about it, nor did I even know when there were any meetings between the Adams Lake Indian Band and the province. Would I have liked to have been (invited)? Yup."
Leon is encouraged by the decision.
"The judge wrote a strong case for aboriginal rights and a good case for title," he said. "The province chose not to see that and decided to narrow the scope of discussions."
Robert Jane, a lawyer who acted on behalf of the band, said it's a significant decision as a clear condemnation of the government's approach to consultations with First Nations.
"The judge said, 'You guys have to go back and consult on incorporation and you can't just keep saying that you've consulted.' "
Those discussions must bear some degree of negotiation over the village boundaries, its governance and revenue sharing, he noted.
After 2009, the province didn't seem to be negotiating in good faith or with any substance, Jane said.
MLA Terry Lake didn't downplay the significance of the judge's ruling.
"This is an important decision and a complex one that the province will take some time to study," Lake said, adding that it was fortunate incorporation will not be stricken.
"The court did say the province should continue to consult on the master development agreement and also on timber issues. We did say we would do that after incorporation."
The band sees room to accommodate its concerns without quashing incorporation. The province has the authority to amend the village's letters patent in matters such as governance and boundaries. Through legislation, the province could also change how the municipality should respond to issues affecting aboriginal rights and title.