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

Province, feds, Wet’suwet’en announce progress in MOU talks

Community engagement process launched to implement northern B.C. First Nation’s rights and title

Province, feds, Wet’suwet’en announce progress in MOU talks

External community engagement process launched to help implement Wet’suwet’en rights and title

Update: Accident on Highway 16 causes power outage in Vanderhoof

397 customers still without electricity as of 4:25 p.m. on Aug 13.

Route announced for the Great Regional Air Hug of 2020

Aircraft will be departing from the Vanderhoof Municipal Airport at 12 p.m. on Aug. 15

“Let’s break the silence because we can”

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s awareness walk held Saturday in Fort St. James

STANDING TALL: Forestry workers meet the challenges, remain hopeful

A look at the forest sector in B.C. – and those hoping for the best – amid mill curtailments

Man suffers serious injuries in bear attack in remote area near Lillooet

It was deemed a defensive attack, no efforts were made to locate the animal

Parkinson SuperWalk goes virtual throughout B.C. due to COVID-19

People encouraged to walk around their neighbourhood, along community trails, through parks, forests

Missed rent payments ‘cause of COVID-19? You have until July 2021 to pay up

Each monthly instalment must be paid on the same date the rent is due

U.S.-Canada pandemic border restrictions extended into September

‘We will continue to keep our communities safe,’ says Public Safety Minister Bill Blair

578 British Columbians currently infected with COVID-19

Seventy-eight new cases confirmed in past 24 hours

WE Charity registers as lobbyist, lays off staff, looking to sell real estate

WE Charity said its financial position has been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic

Conservation seizes fawn illegally kept captive in Vancouver Island home

A Comox Valley resident charged and fined under the Wildlife Act

Pandemic could be driving more parents to get on board with flu shot: study

University of B.C. study gauges willingness for parents to vaccinate children for influenza

Most Read