In a landmark decision in 1983, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled "treaties and statutes related to Indians should be liberally construed and doubtful expressions resolved in favour of the Indian."
Since then, successive decisions have strengthened the aboriginal case for a variety of rights that were vaguely described in the 19th-century treaties that were supposed to form the basis of relations between Canadians and First Nations.
One of those was the question of whether status Indians had to pay income tax, which courts ruled in the past could not be applied against income earned on reserves.
The terms of tax exemption have since expanded and another recent court ruling has again bolstered the aboriginal case by essentially recognizing the ability of native people to manage economic development on their reserves.
The case involved two aboriginal fishers who harvested fish for a business located on Manitoba's Norway House First Nation. The ruling reinforced the idea aboriginals, regardless of where they live, are exempt from taxation if their paycheques are tied to a First Nation.
It didn't matter, the court said, that the fish were being sold off-reserve to the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corp.
First Nations are also determined to claim a right to the natural resources on their ancestral lands, including water and sub-surface minerals, but it will require future court challenges, building on the successes of the past, before the smoke settles.