My Recent Thoughts on Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs Blockades
Last night, the House of Commons held an emergency debate with respect to the protests in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who stand opposed to a natural gas pipeline on their land in British Columbia.
I found myself listening the whole night, to colleagues from every party with very different perspectives. Some highlighted Canada’s history of injustice towards Indigenous people, while others called for an end to the blockades that are hurting our economy and disrupting people’s lives. It is a difficult situation.
Here are my own thoughts after listening yesterday, and I welcome your feedback as the situation evolves.
First, there appears to be a relatively limited role for federal action. The pipeline project through Wet’suwet’en land is within the BC government’s jurisdiction. The provincial court ordered injunction is carried out by the RCMP only because the force is provincially contracted in BC.
Many representatives called for action last night, but there were very few concrete suggestions given our limited jurisdiction.
Second, it’s important to recognize the complexity of Indigenous support and opposition to this project. As the court noted in its injunction decision: “The evidence…indicates significant conflict amongst members of the Wet’suwet’en nation regarding construction of the Pipeline Project.” Many Wet’suwet’en people support the project, including all of the 20 elected Indigenous Bands along the pipeline’s route.
Given the imposition of the Indian Act and Band Council structures, there is rightly a dispute over the jurisdiction of the different governance systems, but it remains true that there are many Indigenous people in support of the project. It is also true that there were consultations with those opposed to the project, and attempts to accommodate their concerns.
Third, while the blockades cannot continue indefinitely and the rule of law must prevail in the end, force should only be used as a last resort and with the knowledge that the “rule of law” has been used as an unjustified weapon against Indigenous communities over the course of our history.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister asked for additional patience, called for a peaceful resolution through “dialogue and mutual respect,” and reiterated our commitment as a “willing partner” at the federal level.
Minister Miller noted that “it is only through meaningful engagement with those who have felt ignored and disrespected for too long that we can find a way forward that builds peace and prosperity for all.”
These same arguments were articulated by Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde.
So what role can and should our federal government play?
First, while our government does not have jurisdiction over the pipeline project, we must continue to play an active role in supporting an open and honest dialogue to reach a peaceful resolution. It remains to be seen where these efforts will lead, but they have been, and must continue to be, meaningful and in good faith.
Second, if these efforts fail and policing is required to remove the blockades, we should remind Canadians that the rule of law is both enforced by the police and applied to them. While it is not appropriate for politicians to dictate specific police operations, there is authority for the Minister to request a review of the RCMP’s activities in a specific case.
A review should be requested of the RCMP’s activities on Wet’suwet’en territory, in light of its inflammatory language (“lethal overwatch is req’d”), its military-style deployment, its interference with journalists, and allegations of an illegitimate RCMP exclusion zone operated beyond the terms of the court’s injunction.
Lastly, we need to move forward with our promised implementation of UNDRIP. While no Indigenous community within Canada can claim sovereignty to the exclusion of our laws, our laws should provide greater support for self-governance.
Please feel free to contact me and tell me what you think.