Wet’suwet’en and Coastal GasLink

In 1984, the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en and Gitksan Houses launched a court case against the government of BC over Aboriginal title to their ancestral territory in BC. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in their favour in the landmark Delgamuukw case in 1997, acknowledging that aboriginal title pre-dated colonial contact and had not been “extinguished” when BC entered confederation in 1871.

23 years after Delgamuukw and 36 years after initiating their claim for judicial recognition of their Aboriginal title, the Wet’suwet’en are still fighting!

Imagine the following scenario:

The United States negotiates with Canada “Nation-to-Nation” for access to the Northwest Passage to ship oil from Alaska to European markets. Canada – citing environmental risk – says no. The US response is a refusal to acknowledge Canadian law and jurisdiction and they commit to proceed – regardless.

Now substitute the Governments of Canada and BC for the United States and Wet’suwet’en for Canada. In both instance the central problem rests on two fundamental issues:

  1. Recognition of sovereignty: what constitutes an independent sovereign nation?
  2. Recognition of legal jurisdiction: whose laws prevail?

Both of the above have defined ongoing issues that successive governments in Canada – federal and provincial – have refused to address. And both issues are about so much more than pipelines. They literally speak to the heart and soul of how “people” see themselves as a “nation”. Who are we? Where do we come from in a collective sense? Why are we here? The answers to these questions help to define our values. That’s why Coastal Gaslink in their initial planning documents in 2011 addressed their relationship with First Nations in terms of “respecting their relationship to their lands and water”. Because that is part what defines Indigenous people.

Does respecting that relationship mean dispensing with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief’s alternative proposal in less than two months and after only one meeting.

Coastal GasLink invested 100,000 hours on extensive field work and study over 3-4 years to determine their optimal route. The business world and government officials state that “Duty to Consult” does not mean an Indigenous veto over resource projects. What they do seem to mean is that they have a “veto” over anything that gets in the way of what they determine is in the best interests of all Canadians.

The Wet’suwet’en are the rightful “owners” of the land based on their own legal traditions and governance systems that have been around for millennia. Those traditions and systems are what needs to guide the ultimate “solution” that they determine themselves to be in the best interests of their people. Perhaps through an All Clans meeting as has been proposed.

What’s the solution for the rest of us? How about positive action on each of the following TRC Calls to Action that directly address the two issues identified above and that coincidentally are all currently either “Not Started” or “Stalled”.

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