People have been living in Buffalo River for over 8000 years, surviving off the bounty of the land and streams in Northern Saskatchewan. Over the years, there have been many cultural changes among the Dene of Buffalo River, including the introduction of new technologies and the interaction between colonial officials and settlers. In 1906, the people of Buffalo River and representatives of the Canadian federal government signed Treaty 10. This treaty says that First Nations peoples are allowed to continue their traditional way of life throughout the land.
In 1994, two members of the Buffalo River Dene Nation were arrested for hunting moose within the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range, a military bombing range used by NATO countries for low-level flight and munitions training. The two men were charged with trespassing and illegally hunting, and lawyers for the Canadian government maintained that Treaty 10 gave Canada the right to close off the bombing range to hunting by First Nations peoples. Buffalo River Dene Nation was never compensated for the land used for the base, however, and believed that they were still allowed to hunt in the area of the bombing range – an area that has been used for hunting for centuries.
The two hunters were acquitted in a lower court, but the Canadian government appealed. The appeal resulted in a conviction and fine for the surviving member of the two men arrested in 1994. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, but the leave for appeal was denied without explanation.
Unable to find justice within the Canadian legal system, the leaders of the the Buffalo River Dene Nation have decided to appeal this case to the International Court of Justice. If their appeal is successful, it will be the first time that an indigenous community has ever taken a country to court at the international level. A victory for the Buffalo River Dene Nation would be a victory for indigenous peoples around the world; it would force world governments to deal with indigenous peoples as peers instead of subjects.
©2006 Buffalo River Dene Nation