A trial pitting Tk’emlups Indian Band against the federal and provincial governments has been delayed a year after Ottawa and Victoria asked for time to negotiate a settlement on the historical land claim.
While representatives for the two sides could not be reached or declined comment Friday, a source close to the band said lawyers for the federal and provincial government asked for the adjournment, possibly to allow the two sides to sit down for talks.
The adjournment was recently granted in B.C. Supreme Court. The trial is now delayed until September next year, with a case management conference scheduled for May.
Contacted Friday, chief Shane Gottfriedson declined comment until he had “an internal discussion with council.”
The trial was otherwise set to start in mid-November and stretch into February.
Tk’emlups Indian Band has spent decades preparing for the case and has set aside a $1-million legal fund in a bid to have its reserve enlarged. It claims its reserve is 55,000 hectares larger than today's boundaries, extending 12 kilometres north of the confluence of the Thompson rivers and 24 kilometres east.
Manny Jules, former chief of Tk’emlups Indian Band, said Friday the case is close to the heart of every band member. The band believes its lands were taken away unjustly. As a result, its reserve is a fraction of its true size.
But with the latest development Jules is hopeful a deal can be reached.
“It will be settled,” he predicted. “It’s in everyone’s best interest to settle.”
Some of the lands the band has claimed include property in and around Rayleigh, riverfront land on the north side of the South Thompson River and portions of what is now Sun Peaks resort.
Jules stressed the band is not trying to take away private property or evict anyone. But it will seek compensation and attempt to restore its traditional reserve.
“It has to be fair and put the band in a position cash-wise to purchase third-party interests, where there’s a willing buyer and seller.”
In legal documents, the federal and provincial governments have denied the band’s claim, saying the TIB reserve boundaries were set by a Joint Indian Reserve Commission in 1877. The band claims the larger reserve boundaries were set in 1862 by an official working under colonial governor James Douglas.
Both the band and governments have hired historical experts and cartographers who have rendered opinions on the 150-year-old records, including production of maps showing potential new boundaries.
Victoria and Ottawa also argue the band lost any rights when it failed to act.
“The plaintiffs are responsible for the prolonged, inordinate and inexcusable delay of 158 years in bringing this action and in seeking the relief claimed herein.”
But Jules dismissed that argument, noting until the early 20th century Indian bands were prevented by law from hiring lawyers. And it was only in 1990 that the province established the B.C. Claims Task Force.
The federal government has twice rejected the TIB claims under its own specific claims process.