It seems we’ve come to a felled tree and a hard place in Indigenous-settler relations.
When that happens, things tend to get incendiary as they did last week when Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs decided to evict Coastal GasLink (CGL) from a worksite near Houston in response to a B.C. Supreme Court decision to uphold a previous temporary injunction allowing the company access to the site.
The injunction and subsequent eviction precipitated a flurry of sometimes angry rhetoric on both sides of the issue.
It is time to turn the temperature down on the local situation, but turn it up at the highest levels of government.
At first glance, it would appear this conflict is between an Indigenous group and a pipeline company, but it’s not.
This is between the Crown, as represented by the British Columbia government and the local hereditary leadership.
CGL is actually caught in the middle, along with the RCMP and other First Nations and non-Indigenous communities along the pipeline route.
The company did what it was required to do under B.C. law and got its permits to proceed. Band councils from Dawson Creek to Kitimat signed benefits agreements. The RCMP is bound by their mandate to enforce B.C. law.
This is not about CGL’s pipeline or any specific resource development project. It’s about unresolved land claims.
In 1763, King George III issued a royal decree that, in a nutshell, said settlers could not claim land from the original occupants unless it was first purchased by or under treaty with the Crown.
There are only two ways this situation is going to be resolved, by force or by negotiation.
Nobody—not the Wet’suwet’en, not the Province, not CGL, not the RCMP—wants to see the former.
It’s 2020. It’s time to get the powers that be to the table and work this thing out once and for all.
The current standoff is not doing anybody any good.