Turbulent Currents

WaterWealth supports the Constitutionally protected and Supreme Court affirmed right of the Wet'suwet'en to uphold their Aboriginal rights and title on their territories according to their traditional governance. Governance that predates Canada and in which those rights and title are vested.

Rifle toting RCMP are not what reconciliation looks like.

unistoten-gidumten-rcmp-8.jpgThere are a couple of common points of confusion regarding the positions of First Nations on TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline, the project benefiting from this current police action. Predictably, industry foster this confusion by touting numbers of benefit agreements made with First Nations band councils. Shamefully, the federal and provincial governments share in the ruse.

One point of confusion is conflating benefit agreements with support for a project. Benefit agreements are not contingent on support. What they do is lay out benefits that will be provided if the project goes ahead. These agreements commonly include details about education and training, employment, and contracting opportunities that will be available. Whether a First Nation support the project or not they may sign on to an agreement to benefit their members if the project does proceed.

Secondly, there is the degree to which a particular band council represents the First Nation. This must be taken on a case by case basis, and in the case of the Wet’suwet’en the band councils have only limited authority. It is the hereditary chiefs representing their clans and houses who hold Aboriginal rights and title, as affirmed (but critically: not conferred) by the Supreme Court of Canada.

“You can drink this water right here, in Wedzin Kwa. That's the water that feeds all our territories. It feeds all the territories all the way down to the ocean. These are our headwaters.”

-- Molly Wickham, Gidumt'en Clan, as RCMP prepare to breach the Gidumt'en checkpoint.

The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have been clear for years that they do not consent to the Coastal GasLink pipeline on their territories. As heavily armed RCMP move under cover of a media exclusion zone to make arrests, Canadian and British Columbian politicians would have you believe that police are removing pipeline protesters. As serious as that would be, the truth is much more so. Canadians who believe in democracy should be deeply concerned about this latest exercise of force over rights.

After 200 years or more of attempts to eradicate indigeneity, including the imposition of reserves and the band and council system, it’s no wonder Indigenous governance is complex and reconciliation hard. But despite turbulent currents along the way, situations like this are where reconciliation must step off the paper of aspirational documents and into the real world. So far we’re failing.

The issues are poorly understood by Canadians. Many corporations are happy to profit from the status quo. Politicians who should and maybe do know better shy away from admitting Indigenous sovereignty. We hear Premier Horgan talking about “determining how we bring together the historic band council model with – as I understand it – the emerging hereditary model,” as though Indian Act band councils were not created in 1876 precisely to disrupt the pre-existing hereditary models. [Edit: Premier has issued a clarification.]

trc02.jpgHowever, we can do better. Whether one favours justice or merely investor certainty, we must do better. And we already know how to do better, from such things as the 440 recommendations of the 1996 final report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015, and shared human values of Truth, Humility, Honesty, Wisdom, Respect, Courage and Love – the Seven Sacred Teachings represented by the seven flames on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission logo.

It is dark days when Canada sends militarized RCMP, in violation of Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to remove Indigenous people from their lands at gunpoint -- all for a fracked gas pipeline project that as Terry Glavin points out in this article may prove to have been unlawfully approved in the first place.

Acknowledgements of unceded Indigenous territory are commonplace in recent years at meetings, events, and in classrooms. It’s time we take the next step and leave these dark days behind.


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