Colonialism on Trial: Indigenous Land Rights and the Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en Sovereignty Case


212 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps
ISBN 1-55092-161-4
DDC 346.71104'32'089972





Reviewed by James S. Frideres

James S. Frideres is Associate Dean (Research) of the Faculty of Social
Sciences at the University of Calgary and co-author of Prairie Builders.


On March 8, 1991, a judge handed down a verdict on a comprehensive land
claim brought against the government by two B.C. First Nations, the
Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en. After the court case had extended to well
over three years, the decision went against the plaintiff and is now in
appeal. The authors (one a cartoonist, the other an employee with
Northern Native Broadcasting) provide a rich scrapbook of photographers,
court transcripts, newspaper reports, and other information relevant to
both the trial and the people involved. This was an important court case
for all of Canada, yet few mainstream media covered the proceedings
except to comment on the final decision. Thus, this record is both
unique and informative.

The book begins with the first day of the trial and ends with selected
quotes from the decision. There is no doubt that the authors abhor the
decision, and they use selected quotes uttered by the Government of
Canada, British Columbia, and the judge during the trial in order to
make their case that the decision was in error and based on an
ethnocentric and racist ideology. The reader will learn much about the
culture of the Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en as the plaintiffs are
examined and cross-examined by the defendants and the judge, although
this is a secondary goal of the authors.

Although the book presents only selected excerpts of the trial, it is
hard to follow the logic used by the judge to arrive at the conclusions
he finally presents. Ignoring previous judgments made by the Supreme
Court, or by other courts on similar cases, is the first anomaly. Other
issues, such as ignoring certain “expert” testimony (which differed
from opinions held by the judge) and accepting testimony that did not
meet normal tests of validity, leave the reader amazed as to how the
judge could come to the conclusions presented in the final decision. In
the end, the reader will begin to question the “neutrality” of the
courts and their ability to make decisions that involve cultures
different from the dominant anglo culture of B.C. The book is a stinging
indictment of the courts and how they have brutalized Natives and denied
them the rights normally assumed to be inherent for other Canadians.


Monet, Don., “Colonialism on Trial: Indigenous Land Rights and the Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en Sovereignty Case,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 18, 2024,