Aboriginal activists left a Kamloops, BC, court house jubilant Jan. 10: a judge found elders Irene Billy and Charlie Willard of the Secwepemc Nation not guilty of contempt of court for refusing to leave their land at Skwelkwelk’welt. Also present was Lawrence Pascal of the neighboring St’at’imc Nation who was released from the Kamloops Detention Centre where he had been held for two months for fighting against the construction of Cayoosh Creek Ski Resort. An appeal in his case has been granted.

Billy, 74, and Willard refused to obey a court injunction July 23, 2001 sought by Sun Peaks to tear down the Skwelkwek’welt Protection Centre. The provincial judge found that the Crown had failed to prove the criminal intention of the Secwepemc defenders beyond a reasonable doubt.

“I always knew we were right, this is our land, we have the right to be here and Sun Peaks and the province cannot remove us from it,” said Billy as she left the court. “We love this land and we will continue to protect it.”

This case sets an important precedent for other cases of Aboriginal people defending their lands around Skwelkwek’welt and Sutikalh. Chief Manuel of the Neskonlith Band stressed, “I am delighted with the court decision, our people are not criminals, they love and defend their land and the courts are coming to realize that. It is the government and the companies who refuse to deal with our land rights and human rights in a meaningful way, they are the ones who use violence and the police against our people.”