Kelly Lake Cree Nation wins recognition

Trent Ernst, Editor

Twenty years on, the As’in’i’wa’chi Ni’yaw Nation, commonly referred to as the Kelly Lake Cree Nation, has been recognized by the supreme court of Canada.

The recognition comes as result of a case known as Daniels v. Canada. After seven years, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Métis and non-status Indians are considered “Indians” under s. 91(24) of the Constitution. This ruling means that non-status Indians and Métis fall under federal jurisdiction and extends the federal government’s responsibilities to ensure these communities have access to programs, services and rights that they have previously been denied.

According to a statement from Chief Kwarakwante Cliff Calliou, the nation is determined to preserve thousands of years of cultural heritage. The Kelly Lake Nation is one of few in the Peace River Region that was not included in the treaty process. As a result, the Government of Canada has refused to recognize Kelly Lake Cree Nation (KLCN) members as “Indians” under the Indian Act of 1876.

“That flawed logic can persist no longer, following an historic Canadian Supreme Court judgment released last Thursday,” says the release.

On April 14, 2016 following a 17-year legal battle, the Supreme Court handed down a decision with significant implications for Canada’s federal government.

Not only does the decision affirm Kelly Lake Cree Nation’s Indigenous status, says the statement, it recognizes and enforces the government’s duty to consult with the nation. It also obligates the government to resolve the nation’s land grievance “and to fairly compensate the Kelly Lake Cree Nation based on precedent set by the Daniels, Haida, Tshilqot’in and Delgamuukw cases.”

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed what we have been fighting to prove for more than 20 years – that we are an Indigenous people with a traditional inherent government, regardless of what the government-imposed Indian Act process says we should be,” says Chief Calliou.

There are also implications for industry, says the statement.

“Over the past 30 years, the government’s refusal to recognize the nations’s inherent Indigenous rights has allowed mass exploitation of resources throughout our traditional territory, often without the Kelly Lake Cree Nation’s consent. Companies and organization currently operating within or contemplating project development on Kelly Lake Cree Nations territory will be compelled to engage in meaningful consultation with the Kelly Lake Cree Nation. Resource extraction of any form within the territory will require Kelly Lake Cree Nation’s consent and support.”

According to a map posted on the Kelly Lake Website, their traditional trapping region in BC extends south and west of Kelly Lake itself, including Blackhawk Lake, Bearhole Lake and Hook Lake. Near Hook Lake, the boundary turns south, including the Imperial Creek Drainage and points south of the Rocky Mountain Divide, following Herrick Creek to its headwaters, then through Gray Pass, following the Narraway River to the Alberta Boundary.

But this is not the extent of their historical territory. “The Kelly Lake trapping, seasonal hunting and family traditional and culturally significant areas follow the tributaries where the Fraser meets the Athabasca River to the north, where the Peace meets Smoky (Peace Point), east to where the Peace meets the Mackenzie River (Williston Lake). These tributaries served as a trading corridor with other tribes such as the Sekani, Ktunaxa and Shuswap tribes,” says the Kelly Lake Cree Nation website. “The traditional territory of the Kelly Lake Cree Nation extends into parts of Northeast BC and Alberta some 40,000 km2, which includes territory in Jasper National Park.”

They are not trying to exclude industry. Far from it. “As a progressive, hardworking Nation, we welcome economic opportunity and development,” says the release. However, “the Kelly Lake Cree Nation can no longer be excluded from participating in important discussions that impact the land, the people and the community.”

Chief Calliou says the declarations outlined in the Daniels case strengthen the nation’s will to resolve their land grievance. “We will continue to defend and uphold the inherent Indigenous rights and title to our territory. The Government of Canada is fully aware that we are ready to negotiate an agreement.”

The Kelly Lake Cree Nation is one of three groups that call Kelly Lake home. The Kelly Lake First Nation (KLFN), and the Apetokosan Nation (Kelley Lake Métis Settlement Society) are also in the area.