I daresay that the trouble with the blockades, by and in solidarity with, the Wet’suwet’en Nation, will be over by the time that this letter hits the newspaper, but there are a few pertinent facts missing from this conversation.
Band councils are colonial governance structures, created by the federal government through the Indian Act in 1876, to weaken traditional governance structures. These Councils oversee matters that affect reserves, specifically the distribution of federal funding. They are accountable to the federal government. Band councils signed Benefits Agreements with Coastal Gas Link.
Hereditary chiefs and their system of governance long predate colonialism. They have authority over all the land and resources of the Wet’suwet’en Nation — which spans far greater territory than the reserves. This land is unceded and was never surrendered by the Wet’suwet’en Nation to Canada, which means that it remains, to this day, sovereign Indigenous territory that belongs to the Wet’suwet’en Nation.
Indigenous laws are a part of the rule of law. Canadian courts have repeatedly acknowledged this, and governments are legally bound to take them into account; it’s just that they rarely do.
Hereditary chiefs thus have a right to assert their sovereignty and make decisions over their land. This legal right is recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1997, in a case known as the Delgamuukw decision, the SCC recognized the limitations of band councils and ruled that the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have authority to govern their unceded territory.
For centuries, Canada has put its laws above Indigenous legal systems, with the aim of dismantling those systems. The Wet’suwet’en are resisting this. They have had enough, and you cannot blame them. They have been treated worse than second class citizens in their own country, and this pipeline seems to have been the last straw. This protest has little to do with a pipeline, and more to do with how successive governments have treated them since Confederation.
Another item missing from this conversation is that an alternate route was proposed that skirted the Wet’suwet’en territory, but this was rejected by the pipeline proponent. Could this have been because it was going to add yet another cost to the $12.6 billion already admitted to, a cost that is on top of the $4.1 billion already paid for this pipeline, and that it was felt that the political cost of spending this much taxpayer money was too high?
I can’t help but wonder how many oil and gas workers you could retrain for well paying jobs in the renewable energy industry for $16.7 billion. I also have to ask why the potential of jobs for thousands of oil and gas workers in cleaning up the abandoned oil wells that the governments, both federal and provincial, have allowed the industry to walk away from, isn’t being addressed. The last figure that I heard for the cleanup was a whopping $62 billion, a number evidently more than the combined worth of the oil and gas industry in this country, which, incidentally, is mostly owned by foreign companies. You and I will be on the hook to pay for this cleanup, not the foreign-owned oil companies, because we let them get away with doing this.
We have known about this problem for more than a year, so why wasn’t something done when First Nations started to build those tiny, self-sufficient houses along the pipeline route, in protest of their rights being dismissed by the government? We knew that they had a good reason for being upset, and we did nothing. Why wasn’t the dialogue started then? This could have all have been avoided if the government had done what it is mandated to, and please don’t tell me that the other major party in this country would have been any better. Just watching the reaction from their leaders and would-be leaders leads me to believe that there would have been a pretty good chance that they would have made things worse than they already are.