For the past couple of weeks I’ve been sharing what I’ve been learning about the Wet’suwet’en peoples and their opposition to all tar sands and natural gas pipelines that are planned to run through their territory.

I’ve found there are many pieces to this story. An excellent overview is: The Wet’suwet’en Nation re-occupies Unsurrendered Territories. And following is a very good video, showing where the pipelines are planned, discussing open and informed consent and shows many aspects of the Wet’suwet’en culture.

Tensions in the Wet’suwet’en territories are high now, most recently because personnel who had setup camps to begin the Coastal GasLink pipeline construction were peaceably evicted several days ago. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are restricting access to the territories and using aerial surveillance. This is especially concerning because RCMP with assault rifles breached the barriers at the territory border and arrested 14 people a year ago. This is even more alarming after it was learned the RCMP had discussed using lethal force against the First Nations people.

Canadian police were prepared to shoot Indigenous land defenders blockading construction of a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia, according to documents seen by the Guardian.

Exclusive: Canada police prepared to shoot Indigenous activists, documents show by Jaskiran Dhillon in Wet’suwet’en territory and Will Parrish, The Guardian, Dec 20, 2019.

A sample letter you can use to write about this situation can be found here:

The letter below is from Indigenous legal professionals from across Canada who are asking Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Horgan to meet with Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs to deescalate the situation.

As most of you will be aware, the possible RCMP enforcement of an injunction against the Unist’ot’en (a client of ours) in response to their continued opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline has been in the national news.

Dozens of academics and lawyers from across Canada have signed the following letter urging the provincial and federal governments to meet directly with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs to open a nation-to-nation dialogue in the hopes of peacefully resolving the matter.


Dear Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Horgan:

Re: Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs’ Opposition to Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project

We write as settler and Indigenous legal professionals from across Canada to express deep concern about the conflict regarding the Coastal GasLink pipeline in Wet’suwet’en territory. We call on the federal and provincial governments to meet with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs immediately and to address this issue in a manner that upholds the principle of reconciliation, the authority of the law of the Wet’suwet’en, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the honour of the Crown.

The police presence on Wet’suwet’en territory has intensified alarmingly since the December court order prohibiting individuals from obstructing the project, and the Hereditary Chiefs’ eviction notice to Coastal GasLink. Indigenous and human rights organizations, including the UN, have raised concerns about violations of Indigenous rights in Wet’suwet’en territory. Meanwhile, the Province has declined the Hereditary Chiefs’ requests to meet. Premier John Horgan recently announced that the “rule of law” must prevail and the project will proceed despite the Hereditary Chiefs’ opposition. He subsequently refused to meet with the Chiefs while in northern BC. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also distanced himself, calling the dispute a provincial matter.

We are deeply troubled by BC’s and Canada’s positions. This is not fundamentally a dispute between Coastal GasLink and the Wet’suwet’en, nor between Hereditary Chiefs and Indian Act band councils. It goes to the core of the relationship between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples and the obligations that arise therefrom. Both the provincial and federal governments must participate directly in its resolution.

The Hereditary Chiefs, not the band councils, were the plaintiffs in the landmark Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa case before the Supreme Court. The Court confirmed that the Wet’suwet’en never surrendered title to their ancestral lands, and accepted extensive evidence outlining their hereditary governance system. The fact that band councils have signed benefit agreements with Coastal GasLink cannot justify the erasure of Indigenous law or negate the Crown’s obligation to meet with the Hereditary Chiefs.

Nor can Wet’suwet’en opposition be resolved by meetings between Coastal GasLink and the Hereditary Chiefs. The Supreme Court has been clear: The Crown must engage directly with the Indigenous group whose rights are at stake. This obligation cannot be fulfilled by third parties with vested interests in the project’s success.

Premier Horgan’s insistence on the “rule of law” fails to acknowledge that the relevant law includes not just the injunction order but the Constitution, Supreme Court decisions, and – crucially – Wet’suwet’en laws and institutions. The laws of Indigenous Peoples, including the Wet’suwet’en, predate those of Canada, are equally authoritative, and are entitled to respect. In an age of truth and reconciliation, respect for the rule of law must include respect for the authority of Indigenous law and a commitment to work out a just and sustainable relationship between Indigenous and settler Canadian legal systems.

BC and Canada are obligated to act honourably in their dealings with Indigenous Peoples, including by engaging in respectful processes to advance reconciliation. Moreover, a key reason that the 1867 Constitution gave the federal government exclusive legislative authority over “Indians, and the lands reserved for the Indians” was the recognition that local settler communities might fail to respect the pre-existing relationships between Indigenous Peoples and their territories. The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed Ottawa’s responsibilities to Indigenous Peoples. For Canada to shirk them now would be contrary to a key principle of Canadian constitutionalism.

The federal and provincial positions risk undermining Canada’s collective effort to achieve meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. We are just beginning to confront our shared colonial past and present, and to address the longstanding wrongs inflicted on Indigenous Peoples. Some governments have taken positive steps in this direction, including commitments to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and the UN Declaration. These initial steps ring hollow when the Crown refuses to honour the Hereditary Chiefs’ request for a meeting, let alone recognize and respect Wet’suwet’en law.

More than twenty years ago, Chief Justice Lamer, writing for Supreme Court, recognized the Crown’s moral duty to engage in good faith negotiations with the Wet’suwet’en to resolve the issue of ownership and jurisdiction over their ancestral lands. This apt statement is reinforced by the growing appreciation that these negotiations are between two systems of legal and political authority. Reconciliation and justice cannot be achieved by relying on the RCMP or resource companies to do the Crown’s work.

We urge BC and Canada to meet with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and to commit to a process for the peaceful and honourable resolution of this issue.

This entry was posted in decolonize, Indigenous, Uncategorized, Unist'ot'en, Wet’suwet’en. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s