Saint Martin’s Harvie Social Justice Lecture Series lecturer will focus on landmark legal case involving land rights of indigenous peoples

Aug. 18, 2014

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When the Calder vs. British Columbia case was heard by the Canadian Supreme Court in 1971, not only vast areas of land, but also long-delayed justice, was at stake.

Hamar Foster, Q.C., professor of law at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, will launch the 2014-15 Saint Martin’s University Robert Harvie Social Justice Lecture Series with a presentation about the case and its far-reaching ramifications. His talk, “One Hundred Years of Advocating for Justice: Litigating the Calder Case,” will be at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26, at Harned Hall 110, on the University campus, 5000 Abbey Way SE. The public is invited to attend this lecture and other presentations in the lecture series, which are free.

Foster will use video clips, photographs and visual aids to discuss the case, in which the Nisga’a Nation Tribal Council of Northwest British Columbia and tribal member Frank Calder contended that title to certain lands by the indigenous people in what is now the province existed before the land was colonized. Calder and the tribe argued those rights had never been legally terminated. Although the Nisga’a tribe narrowly lost the case, the 1973 legal decision is regarded as a landmark for Aboriginal peoples because it raised a fundamental challenge to the manner in which the country made decisions about the rights of indigenous peoples. It also has had philosophical ramifications for Canada, other Commonwealth countries, and the United States, where Aboriginal people were displaced by European settlement.

In the decades since the decision, Canadian government and society have had to rethink basic assumptions rooted in centuries of cultural bias against Aboriginal peoples. Those biases affected, and often still influence, government policy. The long-term results of the Calder case include the Canadian government’s creation of a more comprehensive approach to land claims of Aboriginal peoples and the process for negotiating them.

"It is exciting for Saint Martin's to be able to host an international scholar who has been at the forefront in supporting and analyzing Aboriginal civil rights law in Canada for more than 25 years,” says Prof. Robert Hauhart, Ph.D., J.D., who chairs Saint Martin’s Department of Society and Social Justice. “The history of the Calder case is one example of the long, hard struggle that marginalized native peoples have had to fight all over the world to re-establish their sovereign right to ancestral lands. We are honored that Professor Foster has chosen to visit Saint Martin's to tell this story."

Foster, who left his law practice in 1978 to teach, earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s degree in history before completing his legal education. Among the courses he teaches are English and Canadian legal history, as well as Aboriginal law. He has twice been honored with the University of Victoria’s Terry Wuester Master Teacher Award. A prolific author and editor, Foster primarily researches the legal history of Western and Northern Canada, especially as it relates to Aboriginal peoples. He currently is working on a book about the campaign for Aboriginal title in British Columbia during the period from 1900 to 1928.

Foster is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and an advisory board member for the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History. Until 2008, he served as director of the province’s Civil Liberties Association, and in 2010, was made a Queens Counsel (Q.C.), an honor and status conferred by the British Crown.

Saint Martin’s is celebrating the 9th year of the Robert A. Harvie Social Justice Lecture Series, created by Hauhart to raise awareness of social justice issues within the community. The series honors the work of Robert A. Harvie, J.D., former professor and chair of the University’s department of criminal justice. For more information, visit

Saint Martin’s University is an independent, four-year, coeducational university located on a wooded campus of more than 300 acres in Lacey, Washington. Established in 1895 by the Catholic Order of Saint Benedict, the University is one of 14 Benedictine colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and the only one west of the Rocky Mountains. Saint Martin’s University prepares students for successful lives through its 25 majors and seven graduate programs spanning the liberal arts, business, education, nursing and engineering. Saint Martin’s welcomes more than 1,400 under-graduate students and 350 graduate students from many ethnic and religious backgrounds to its Lacey campus, and 300 more undergraduate students to its extended campuses located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Centralia College. Visit the Saint Martin’s University website at

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Robert Hauhart, Ph. D., J.D.
Chair, Department of Society and Social Justice