Protesters stand at a rail blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, near Belleville, Ont., on Monday Feb. 24, 2020, during a protest in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs attempting to halt construction of a natural gas pipeline on their traditional territories. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

B.C. VIEWS: Pipeline dispute highlights need for clarity

As the B.C. treaty process grinds on, uncertainty remains

It would be a mistake to assume that the dispute between Wet’suwet’en traditional leaders and the Coastal GasLink pipeline project can be resolved in a column.

It has taken generations to get to this point; it will take more than 550 words to get past it.

What the dispute has revealed, however, is the absolute urgency for action.

Not the kind that some suggest. Sending in the troops, or ordering police to dismantle blockades has failed to produce longterm solutions in the past. It will again.

What’s needed is a commitment by First Nations, provincial and federal governments to resolve the longstanding land title and governance issues that lie at the core of the dispute.

The Wet’suwet’en blockade is the symptom of a bigger problem. It is a byproduct of British Columbia’s messy and unfinished treaty process, and a failed and broken federal Indian Act.

How dysfunctional it has become can be seen in the Wet’suwet’en First Nation itself. While some British Columbians may have just heard about Gaslink’s plan to build a $6 billion pipeline from Northeastern B.C. to a $40 billion gas liquefaction plant and export terminal at Kitimat, the Wet’suwet’en have been debating it for years.

The discussions were not easy, and even today the debate is polarizing the community. But in the end, the elected band councils supported the project, arguing construction would provide opportunity and employment for their members.

What Coastal Gaslink failed to do was convince the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

And there’s the rub.

Elected band councils are the product of the Indian Act – a notoriously paternal piece of 19th century legislation. Its primary function was to promote the rapid assimilation and cultural extinction of First Nations people across Canada. It brought residential schools, subjugated women, squelched traditional languages, and even barred dancing and the wearing of regalia.

It also provided a mechanism for bands to manage their own reserve lands through elected band councils.

The challenge in B.C. is that reserve lands make up only a fraction of the traditional territory claimed by First Nations.

And because few treaties have ever been signed in this province, these First Nations have never relinquished their title or rights to that land – a point supported by the Canadian Supreme Court in its 1997 Delgamuukw ruling.

It is this traditional territory that the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs claim authority over.

That claim has created a simple narrative: Traditional leaders, defending traditional territory from colonial and industrial incursion.

Dismissed in this narrative, of course, is the support from the 20 First Nations along the pipeline route and the extensive consultations with those nations that have taken place to get to this point.

The question of who speaks for the Wet’suwet’en is something the Wet’suwet’en will have to decide themselves.

But it is a question that will continue to be asked in other Indigenous communities until the issue of land claims in B.C. is resolved. The treaty process – moving as slowly as it is – will not only define aboriginal rights and title, but provide agreed-upon governance structures.

Without that resolution there will be no clarity, no certainty, and little chance of the economic prosperity so many First Nations people are calling for.

Greg Knill is a columnist and former Black Press editor. Email him at greg.knill@blackpress.ca.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coastal GasLink

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Join the Regional District on Instagram Live

The Regional District of Central Okanagan parks interpretive programs are going online

COVID-19: Diabetes Canada donation bins becoming garbage dumps amid pandemic

Diabetes Canada has asked residents to stop overflowing bins with donations and garbage

Okanagan College students receive emergency funding

Funding is available to domestic and Indigenous students from the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training

Lake Country ceases tourism operations for 2020, Okanagan tourism continues to suffer

The District of Lake Country voted to suspend tourism on March 31

COVID-19: City of Kelowna defers property tax penalty, other city charges until September

The city is deferring interest and penalties to September, for those who need it

Okanagan College grading system critical despite COVID-19 pandemic

On heels of petition penned by student, VP academic says grading system necessary for accurate assessments

Here’s how to talk to people who aren’t taking physical distancing seriously

Approach the conversation with empathy says conflict expert

B.C. clears more acute hospital beds as COVID-19 case growth slows

Province holding about 40% of beds empty for peak still to come

As 500K+ apply for emergency benefit, Trudeau says aid coming for Canadians left behind

Canada Emergency Response Benefit provides $2,000 per month

Spike of visitors to Princeton-area stressing grocery supply chain and healthcare teams

‘We are really not set up to have this many people at this time of year.’ Area H Director Bob Coyne

Summerland to offer mental health webinar

Event will examine ways of coping during COVID-19 pandemic

Van crashes into Kamloops home

Police say the driver went into medical distress before the crash

Salmon Arm Silverbacks remember Humboldt Broncos on anniversary of fatal crash

Sixteen people killed, 13 injured after semi collided with team bus on April 6, 2018

Most Read