LATEST

SUZUKI – Pipeline actions signal need for true reconciliation

(Image: CN Rail)

ACTIONS BY AND IN SUPPORT of the Wet’suwet’en land defenders are as much about government failure to resolve issues around Indigenous rights and title as they are about pipelines and gas.

Some Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their people are defending their rights to traditional practices, clean air and water and a healthy environment. They say the Coastal GasLink pipeline threatens those rights. The $6-billion pipeline, to ship fracked gas 670 kilometres from Dawson Creek to Kitimat for liquefying and export, is part of a heavily subsidized, $40-billion LNG Canada project owned by Royal Dutch Shell, Mitsubishi Corporation, and state-owned Petronas (Malaysia), PetroChina and Korea Gas Corporation.

The hereditary chiefs suggested an alternative route, but the pipeline company nixed it as too costly. The company and government point to support from elected chiefs and councils along the pipeline route, many of which have signed benefit-sharing agreements as a way to gain much-needed money for their communities.

But, as Judith Sayers (Kekinusuqs), University of Victoria adjunct professor from the Hupačasath First Nation, writes in the Tyee, “Neither the elected chief and band councils that support the pipeline, nor the federal or provincial governments, nor Coastal GasLink ever obtained the consent of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters.”

That’s partly because governments have failed to resolve issues around Indigenous rights and title, unless forced to after lengthy court battles, as with the 1997 Delgamuukw decision and the 2014 Tsilhqot’in decision, which recognized Indigenous title over unceded territories.

Perhaps governments are afraid that Indigenous rights and title would infringe on massive resource development schemes, although, under the previous decisions, they can still approve such projects as long as they can justify them and engage meaningfully with Indigenous titleholders.

If the principles set out in the Truth and Reconciliation report, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and court decisions are to have meaning, both levels of government must resolve issues around Indigenous rights and title and respect for Indigenous law.

One complication is that few people truly understand Indigenous governance systems. As Sayers writes, “The Wet’suwet’en were never defeated in a war, never surrendered their lands and never entered into a treaty.” Hereditary chiefs have jurisdiction over traditional territories, whereas elected chiefs and councils have authority on reserves. Elected band councils are an outcome of the 1876 Indian Act (and its precursors), enacted in part to destroy traditional governance systems and laws.

Some see the hereditary systems through a colonial lens — as monarchy or divine right — but they’re much more representative and consensus-based than many realize.

Now that actions have spread across the country, blocking rail lines, bridges, roads and ports, complaints about inconvenience and disruption are rife. But colonial society has been inconveniencing and disrupting Indigenous lives for hundreds of years. Now the RCMP, acting on behalf of extractive industries and government, are forcing Wet’suwet’en off their own territory.

Politicians rant about “protesters holding the economy hostage.” But Canada has held Indigenous people hostage up until the last residential school closed in 1996 — and longer through an unfair foster care system.

Recent actions are also calling attention to rapidly expanding fossil fuel development during a climate crisis, and the problems that come with giant resource projects, including violence against women. The Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls found direct links between extractive industries, “man camps” and increased violence against Indigenous women.

They also put a spotlight on society’s failure to respect the knowledge, laws and traditions of the people who have been here since time immemorial.

All Canadians should learn about Indigenous history and culture. We need to move beyond our narrow, extractivist, endless-growth mindset. The colonial worldview is failing us. We’re in a climate crisis, yet governments and industry are hell-bent on tearing up the landscape with fracking, immense oilsands mines, seismic lines, access roads and forestry to reap quick profits by selling it all to other countries. We need to realize that we have more to learn from Indigenous Peoples than they from us.

Governments must work with Indigenous Peoples to resolve issues around rights and title where treaties haven’t been signed and honour the treaties that have been. Until then, major resource projects that potentially infringe on these should be put on hold.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor and Writer Ian Hanington. Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

About Mel Rothenburger (7727 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on SUZUKI – Pipeline actions signal need for true reconciliation

  1. Tony Brumell // February 26, 2020 at 3:05 PM // Reply

    The next thing Ian is to understand that “WE” ( The White guys ) have more than one level of government and both have different levels and areas of jurisdiction.There are very few things that the lower level of gov’t (ie Provincial) can do to over rule the Feds.
    So too with F/N governments. As I understand it ,the elected chiefs and councils handle “on reserve ” and local issues and have no jurisdiction on National issues. In this case unceeded Wet’suwet’en territories.
    A historical and traditional gov’t such as the hereditary chiefs ( I believe ) must take precidence over the imported /imposed system as represented by elected Chief and council..
    I also believe that it is a F/N problem to solve and that we should stay out of it. We have no jurisdiction on traditional territories or traditional values.

  2. Ian M MacKenzie // February 26, 2020 at 6:56 AM // Reply

    Well, that pretty much sums it up. Now what’s the next step?

  3. Who stands to benefit most by destroying the Canadian economy?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: