“We don’t want to pitch Canadians against other Canadians,” Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Environment Minister, told Liberal Party supporters at an Outremont riding by-election campaign rally on January 22. “We want Canadians to be together.”
McKenna was discussing the environmental and climate-change challenges facing the Trudeau government in the build-up to October’s federal election. Yet against First Nations’ opposition, the Trudeau government is determined to deliver two major pipelines – something at which the pro-petroleum Harper government spectacularly failed.
“It’s been a bad week for First Nations,” Bruce McIvor of First Peoples Law told the Nation, referring to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to replace former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould with David Lametti in a cabinet shuffle.
McIvor went further. “In the run-up to the federal election, Trudeau has sided with the resource industry and thrown Indigenous Peoples, including Wilson-Raybould, under the bus,” he said, describing the RCMP deployment as indicative of the federal government’s continuing colonization of its Indigenous Peoples.
Justice Marguerite H. Church, of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, ruled in December that the plaintiff, Coastal GasLink, would suffer “irreparable harm” if unable to access beyond the Wet’suwet’en people’s blockade near Houston, BC.
Yet Canada is not respecting its own laws, according to both McIvor and Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chief Na’Moks of the Tsayu (Beaver) Clan.
“Indigenous rights are inherent rights,” said McIvor. ‘What we need is a Recognition Act so government agencies respect and recognize those laws.” The 1997 Delgamuukw Supreme Court decision, he added, recognized that the Wet’suwet’en are organized through their hereditary chief system.
Justice Church’s decision pointed to Coastal GasLink attempts to liaise only with elected band leadership under the Indian Act, neglecting the system of hereditary chiefs. “Only a small subset of people qualifies as title holders under the Indian Act. It would be similar to the mayor of Montreal trying to speak for the whole of Quebec,” McIvor explained.
Aboriginal title means First Nations should both benefit from their lands and have control over their lands, McIvor emphasized. Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), he noted, states that Indigenous Peoples should not be forcibly removed from their lands
“For a country and government that prides itself on the rule of law, Canada is not following its own laws,” McIvor said.
Chief Na’Moks underlined that sentiment. “We have our rights and title,” he said.
Na’Moks criticized the band-council system under the Indian Act and the consultation process.
“[Coastal Gas] were directing them, not consulting them,” Na’Moks told the Nation. “Family members have been arguing with family members.” He called it a case of “divide and conquer” intended to undermine the authority of the Hereditary Chiefs.
Coastal Gas failed to respond to questions regarding financial offers to the band chiefs and members for accepting the 670-kilometre gas pipeline from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, BC.
As for the argument that shipping liquefied natural gas (LNG) to China will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Na’Moks described this as “propaganda,” adding, “They won’t come off coal tomorrow, it is too cheap.”
From the perspective of the BC government, the Indian Act created complex issues with both hereditary and elected governance systems.
“How First Nations reconcile Indian Act band councils and traditional hereditary leadership is a discussion many are having among themselves,” said Sarah Plank, a spokesperson for the BC Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Ministry. “Reconciliation at its heart is about supporting Indigenous self-determination and how First Nations choose to govern themselves.”
Coastal GasLink failed to answer questions seeking details of their consultation process.
“As with any community, there
is a diversity of viewpoints,” Plank continued. “We understand that some
hereditary leaders along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route support the LNG
project. As we’ve seen, some hereditary leaders do not.”
However, the BC government was keen to stress that the Coastal GasLink represents “great opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people,” she added. “As Premier [John] Horgan has said, the work of reconciliation is incredibly complex – there is no quick fix to resolving issues that go back to 1876 and beyond. The provincial government is committed to reconciliation and respecting the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” Na’ Moks remained unconvinced. “They should spell it wreck-onciliation,” he said. “They are ruining and wrecking the relationships we are trying to build.”