Canada's top court rules U.S.-based First Nation maintains rights across the border

By Moira Warburton and Steve Scherer

OTTAWA, April 23 (Reuters) - Canada's Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the descendants of the U.S.-based Sinixt nation maintained ancestral land rights even after members moved south in the 19th century, a landmark decision that ends a decade-long legal dispute.

The court ruled in favor of Rick Desautel, a Sinixt descendant who lives in Washington state. In 2010, he was charged with hunting without a license on traditional Sinixt lands in British Columbia.

Canada's Indigenous people have the right to hunt in their traditional lands. In 1956, Canada declared the Sinixt "extinct" because members of the nation had either died or were no longer living in the country.

In Desautel's case, federal prosecutors had argued the Sinixt were not protected by the rights in Canada's constitution because they no longer were present in the country.

But the Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts and dismissed the federal appeal, ruling that as long as a nation could prove ties to the land from before first contact with Europeans, they did not have to consistently use that land for their rights to apply.

Refusing rights to Indigenous people who were forced to leave Canada "would risk perpetuating the historical injustice suffered by Aboriginal peoples at the hands of Europeans," the court said.

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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