Who speaks for the Wet’suwet’en?
People may be getting a little too excited over a memorandum of understanding signed last week between Canada, B.C. and nine hereditary chiefs from the Office of the Wet’suwet’en (OW).
First of all, this document is merely a starting point toward a resolution of long-standing land claim issues. Basically, it is a commitment to negotiate the details of rights and title recognized in principle by the 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision in Delgamuukw v. B.C.
Nevertheless, the MOU has shone light on the internal division within the Wet’suwet’en Nation.
For example, a demonstration against the signing by members of Skin Tyee Nation and an associated press release clearly indicates that band does not recognize the authority of the OW at all.
Hagwilget, on the other hand, does recognize the authority of the hereditary leadership over non-reserve lands, but has condemned the MOU process in the strongest possible terms as “oppressive.”
Yes, there are differences of opinion. Why would anybody expect anything else?
As a nation, Canada is hardly what you would call united, either. There is a growing movement of western separatism in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Quebec separatism is a perennial issue. And on any given issue, including this one, there is internal conflict between conservative and progressive viewpoints.
Yet, when push comes to shove, we function as a sovereign nation. And that, ultimately, is what this is about. Articles 3 and 4 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—which was implemented by B.C. in legislation last year—clearly outlines the right of First Nations to self-determination and self-governance.
In other words, their internal politics is none of our business.
That is not to say we can’t or shouldn’t report on it. We are about to undertake nation-to-nation discussions on turning over jurisdiction of large swaths of Northwest B.C. to the Wet’suwet’en. And that affects us all.
In an ideal world, there would be universal consensus on who speaks for the Wet’suwet’en.
It is not an ideal world.
In the meantime, UNDRIP, Delgamuukw, Tsilhqot’in and dozens of other precedents dictate we must get on with this negotiation.
We hope the Wet’suwet’en people will be able to come together in the process.