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Canada's Supreme Court Honors Indigenous Tribe's Transboundary Rights

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A recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling has broad implications for tribes in the Mountain West with historic ties to lands in Canada.

The April 23 decision affirms the rights of tribes to hunt, fish and conduct other treaty-reserved activities on traditional lands in Canada even if they aren’t citizens or residents of Canada.

"By contrast," the court wrote, "an interpretation that excludes Aboriginal peoples who were forced to move out of Canada would risk perpetuating the historical injustice suffered by Aboriginal peoples at the hands of Europeans."

Several tribes' traditional territory expands well beyond the U.S. northern border, including the Blackfeet, Assiniboine and Lakota people, many of whom now live in Montana and the Dakotas.

Kekek Stark, an Indian law professor at the University of Montana, applauds the court's acknowledgement that the "medicine line" is arbitrary.

"Across the border a lot of the tribes are split or have relative bands or a part of their communities are on both sides, and this is just an acknowledgement that the boundary is arbitrary and we have an existing relationship on both sides of the border," Stark said.

The ruling does not give Indigenous people in Canada the same rights in the U.S.

The case centered on whether Rick Desautel, an American citizen and descendant of Sinixt First Nation – a tribe Canada long ago declared "extinct" – lawfully hunted an elk in British Columbia in 2010.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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