I sat in the hall of the Friendship Centre in Smithers on Wed., the 16th and listened to the BC and Wet’suet’en elders and those involved in the blockade speak. Several powerful points came through:
• We believe that the law comes from the land and our sense of the Creator who resides there. We cannot break this law. This land is our Mother. She takes care of us. We must take care of her.
• We are required to honour our history, our ancestors and our land by upholding our law.
• So we do what we were born to do; protect our territory and all who live within it.
• We will not surrender the birthright of our children and their children. We cannot stand down.
• We have a human right to live in peace and practice our culture, one that is recognized by the the highest global authority, the United Nations. We must then stand up to the continuing occupation of our territory. We cannot leave.
Indigenous people live within cultures that are uniquely their own and different from the mainstream culture Canadians assume everyone shares. Their rights to do this and our responsibility to respect them in that are enshrined in s.35 of our Constitution Act of 1982 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to which Canada is a signatory. UNDRIP defends the rights of Indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent to decisions affecting their territories. This is not a veto but does require that legitmate rights be considered and the process for achieving this must be both fair and transparent.
Sending in armed police to use force is obviously highly transparent but it is also highly unfair. It does not resolve the dispute, it makes it worse. Coastal Gaslink, the Trudeau government and the RCMP may have arranged a narrowly conceived legal permission for their actions but in doing so they showed a profound disrespect for the Wet’suet’en culture and for the national process of reconciliation.
Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, speaking from the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2018 said, “Indigenous Peoples must be part of decision making when our rights and well-being are at stake. Working with us to determine what that looks like is the smart thing to do. It will lead to fewer acrimonious decisions, fewer court battles, more timely decisions, and better outcomes for us all.
Our immediate focus should not be on allowing Coastal Gaslink access to contested territory but on returning them all to the table with a renewed commitment to transparent, fair and culturally appropriate discussions.