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06/26/2014 04:32 EDT | Updated 08/26/2014 05:59 EDT

First Nations 'ecstatic' over historic Supreme Court ruling

It's being hailed as a significant victory for First Nations, and aboriginal people across the country are celebrating today's Supreme Court of Canada decision granting title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in B.C. to the Tsilhqot'in First Nation.

"This decision is such a huge, most important decision that I've been a part of." said Tsilhqot'in First Nation Chief Roger William.

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William and other B.C. leaders were together in a boardroom in Vancouver when they heard the news. 

"I was completely surprised. I can tell you this whole room erupted in cheers and tears after this long hard struggle." said Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

The unanimous ruling grants the Tsilhqot'in Nation title to a large area outside its reserve. It covers 1,700 square kilometres of land the group has traditionally used. 

The Tsilhqot'n First Nation has been fighting the case for more than two decades.

As soon as the decision was announced, speculation began about how it would impact other First Nations across the country. 

"This decision building on previous Supreme Court of Canada decisions will be a game-changer in terms of the landscape in British Columbia and throughout the rest of the country where there is un-extinguished aboriginal title." said Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould. 

Mi'kmaq lawyerPam Palmater said this decision provides important clarification over what having aboriginal title means and how it will impact resource development projects.

"The aboriginal group in question has the exclusive authority to decide who uses that land and who benefits from that land and as a result, provincial laws don't apply."

In a statement, AFN acting spokesperson GhislainPicard said, "The court has clearly sent a message that the Crown must take aboriginal title seriously and reconcile with First Nations honourably. This decision will no doubt go down in history as one of the most important and far reaching ever rendered by the Supreme Court of Canada.” 

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