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1973 - In the Calder Case, the Supreme court held that Aboriginal rights to land did exist, citing the 1763 Royal Proclamation

January 2, 1973


The Calder case ( Calder et al. v. Attorney General of British Columbia 1973) — was named for politician and Nisga’a chief Frank Calder. He brought the case before the courts, who reviewed the existence of Aboriginal title (i.e., ownership) claimed over lands historically occupied by the Nisga’a peoples of northwestern British Columbia. While the case was lost, the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling nevertheless recognized for the first time that Aboriginal title has a place in Canadian law.


In the Calder case, the Nisga’a Tribal Council asked the Supreme Court of British Columbia to recognize that their title to lands in and around the Nass River Valley had “never been lawfully extinguished.” The case was dismissed at trial. The Nisga’a Tribal Council then took the case to the Court of Appeal of British Columbia, but that court dismissed it as well. 


They took their case on to the Supreme Court of Canada. On 31 January 1973, the court released its judgement. Six out of seven judges ruled that Aboriginal title existed in Canadian law, although they still determined that the Nigsa'a lost their case based on a technicality. This is why many Aboriginal people living on land without treaties say that they are on unceded traditional territory.   - Canadian Encyclopedia

Digging Deeper


Asch, Michael. “From Calder to Van der Peet: Aboriginal Rights and Canadian Law, 1973-96.” Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in Australia, Canada, & New Zealand. Havemann, Paul, Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. 428-445.


Foster, Hamar, Heather Raven & Jeremy Webber. Let Right Be Done: Aboriginal Title, the Calder Case, and the Future of Indigenous Rights. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007.


Kulchyski, Peter. “Calder,” in Unjust Relations: Aboriginal Rights in Canadian Courts. Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 1994. 61-126.

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