In 1973, a group of Dene chiefs filed a caveat at the land titles office in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories to gain a legal interest in 400,000 square miles (1,000,000 km2) of land in northern Canada. The chiefs wanted to claim the land by virtue of their aboriginal rights, and prevent further development until ownership had been settled. It came to be known as the Paulette Caveat, named after François Paulette, who was chief of the Fort Smith Chipewyan at the time, and one of the chiefs who initiated the caveat.
The land office referred the caveat to the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories. Justice William Morrow, the only sitting judge of that court at the time, held a six-week hearing process to establish whether signatories of Treaty 8 and Treaty 11 had fully understood the meaning of the treaties they had signed in 1899 and 1921-2 respectively. Hearings were held in a number of communities in the Northwest Territories (some only accessible by plane), with some hearings being held in informal settings for the convenience of witnesses, many of whom were elderly.
Many witnesses testified that the signatories did not fully understand that the treaties abrogated their traditional rights to the land. Justice Morrow agreed with these witnesses and ruled that the chiefs had established a case for claiming aboriginal rights sufficiently to warrant the filing of a caveat.
The finding was appealed by the federal government and later overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada on a point of law.[vague], although the Court's decision did not question Morrow's finding of aboriginal rights.
The Supreme Court's ruling was the precursor to further negotiations between the Dene and the federal government to establish and clarify land rights, and talks were still in progress in 2005.
- Canadian Aboriginal case law
- Numbered Treaties
- Indian Act
- Section Thirty-five of the Constitution Act, 1982
- Indian Health Transfer Policy (Canada)
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