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Tribunal sides with B.C. First Nation in historic land-claims fight

An aerial view of Williams Lake, B.C. In March, 2014, a federal tribunal upheld a claim by a local First Nation that its ancestors were wrongfully deprived of their land a century and a half ago.

JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

A federal tribunal has ruled that much of a city in British Columbia's Interior was wrongfully taken by settlers from a local First Nation 150 years ago.

The case in front of the Specific Claims Tribunal pitted the Williams Lake Indian Band against the federal minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development over what could involve thousands of hectares of land.

The band argued that the colony failed to protect its land, including what is now the downtown core of Williams Lake, B.C., from being overtaken by settlers, and failed to recover the land that was unlawfully taken.

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Judge Harry Slade said in the written ruling that the colony failed to meet the "applicable standard" in honouring its obligations to the First Nation.

Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Ann Louie says members are elated because the First Nation has been arguing that it was pushed off its lands in the 19th century.

The federal government has until the end of March to appeal the ruling and if it doesn't, the process of addressing compensation can begin.

The tribunal was created in 2008 and consists of superior court judges who can make binding decisions on land clams and compensation up to a maximum of $150-million per claim.

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