Smithers Coun. Greg Brown posted on Facebook late Tuesday night his support of “the Wet’suwet’en” and mentions “the grace, strength and respect that the Wet’suwet’en people have responded with when faced with aggression, force and deceit.”
“Today I’m proud to stand with the Wet’suwet’en. I’m proud to reside on their unceded territories. I’m proud to be their neighbours. In my experience they have walked the talk of working to improve the well-being of all.
“Reflecting on the events over the last 2 days, I’m particularly proud of my aforementioned positions because of the grace, strength and respect that the Wet’suwet’en people have responded with when faced with aggression, force and deceit.
“One day this conflict will end up in the higher level courts with enlightened minds trying to sort of the question of rights and title. Presently, I think the Governments of Canada/BC could use some Wet’suwet’en diplomacy and mutual regard when approaching this conflict. If they had, we could be avoiding this conflict.
“And at the same time, perhaps this is an opportunity for others to get a glimpse of the Wet’suwet’en Way. Because in the future when climate induced conflicts are forecasted to increase, I think the Wet’suwet’en way will be welcomed.”
Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach went to the area near the Gitdumden checkpoint south of Houston before it was taken down by RCMP Monday, but was stopped at the RCMP checkpoint north of it. He has not made a public statement on the police enforcement of the injunction against the Gitdumden blockade set up in December or the Unist’ot’en gate set up at the bridge to the camp started a decade ago.
A quick look at other Smithers councillor pages show no statements on the subject either. Same goes for the mayors of Telkwa, Hazelton, New Hazelton.
Witset Chief Victor Jim, who has spoken with The Interior News before on the debate around Coastal GasLink, has spoken to APTN since the police action Monday. In that interview with APTN, Jim said his council tried meeting with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. He said they refused to talk.
“I don’t know if we’ll come together again,” he was quoted as saying by APTN. “I can’t tell (hereditary chiefs) what they should do. I can’t tell anyone what should happen.”
At the Coastal GasLink job fair in November, Chief Jim said it was not an easy decision to vote a second time and confirm the deal signed with the company, and another with Chevron for its planned Pacific Trail Pipeline. He also stressed people avoid confrontation with any protesters.
“When CGL came to our meeting, I asked them ‘even if we don’t sign you guys are coming through, aren’t you?’ And he said, ‘yes, we are,’ ” Chief Jim told those gathered at the open house. “We couldn’t pass up on the opportunities for our members. There’s going to be a lot of jobs that are going to become available.
“And I just wanted to let our people know that I don’t want our people to be one-cheque wonders. What happens a lot of times is people get a big cheque and they go out and they do what they do. This will be good 2-3-year jobs that our people will be having, and representing our community the best that we can with some of the jobs that you will be taking.”
Office of the Wet’suwet’en claim title
The elected bands say they are acting on behalf of their members living on and off reserve, and managing external affairs is part of their purview.
The Office of the Wet’suwet’en representing the hereditary chiefs has stated that they are the rightful title holders to any land outside the boundaries of elected band councils, pointing to the 1997 Delgamuukw Supreme Court of Canada case with Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en chiefs that affirmed that their right to title of the land together covering 55,000 square kilometres was not extinguished.
However, as described well in The Canadian Encyclopedia, the court also acknowledged limitations to that title.
Traditional lands cannot be used in a manner that is “irreconcilable with the nature of the claimants’ attachment to those lands.” For example, a nation with ancestral claims to fishing rights may not use the waters in a way that would destroy its value for fishing. If Indigenous people wished to use the lands in ways that Aboriginal title did not permit, then the lands must be surrendered. Aboriginal title cannot be transferred to anyone other than the Crown.
In order to clarify how Indigenous nations must demonstrate Aboriginal title, the court created a test based on three key points: sufficient, continuous and exclusive evidence of territorial occupation.
From the Supreme Court decision:
“In order to establish a claim to aboriginal title, the aboriginal group asserting the claim must establish that it occupied the lands in question at the time at which the Crown asserted sovereignty over the land subject to the title.”