Column: Come together for the Wet’suwet’en people

Former elected chief and CEO of First Nations LNG Alliance hopes for peace amongst Wet’suwet’en.

It is difficult to see as a positive development [the] announcement of a second road blockade at the Unist’ot’en camp to block the Coastal Gaslink gas pipeline, in Wet’suwet’en territories.

We cannot see how setting the stage for further litigation or worse can benefit our people. The backlash Wet’suwet’en people are facing, whether they are for or against the project, is devastating.

Our leaders, elected or hereditary, are advancing what they believe is right and as such all deserve respectful treatment. Social-media campaigns led by non-Indigenous groups are simply not contributing to a solution.

There is no doubt that the hereditary leadership has some responsibility for land and natural resources within our territory. At the same time, the elected leadership has responsibility for our people and the external affairs of their First Nation.

The Wet’suwet’en Nation exists within a complex mix of federal, provincial, municipal and Indigenous jurisdictions.

Current varying interpretations of the 21-year-old court Supreme Court of Canada decision of Delgamuukw, or non-binding international commitments outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, do not change the fact that without economic development in our territories, our people will always have to accept a diminished quality of life unless they move elsewhere.

We all lose while we are divided and positional. The media and other outsiders will continue to pit us against each other in order to build a more sensational story, or to influence the outcome of the LNG Canada and Coastal Gaslink project. The headlines are not the place to explore these complex issues, especially with an often uniformed public audience watching. Our division hurts our people deeply.

Much is being said about “reconciliation” without much common understanding of what that might mean. But before we can reconcile with the rest of society we need to take the high road and begin true reconciliation with each other.

Rather than position ourselves for failure we need to come together for our people. We need the Wet’suwet’en people to do this ourselves – hereditary chiefs, elected chiefs and most of all our people – children, women, men and families.

As 2018 closes, more than anything I wish for peace. Peace for this country and peace for our nation. I hope we can spend the season with our families and start the new year off where we can all sit down as Wet’suwet’en people first, without titles or positions, and find a way forward where all our interests are listened to and respected. We need to start somewhere.

We must try to find a higher ground to come together. Our people deserve nothing less.

Karen Ogen-Toews is a former Wet’suwet’en elected chief, and is CEO of the First Nations LNG Alliance. The Alliance is a collective of First Nations who are participating in, and supportive of, sustainable and responsible LNG development in B.C.

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