What we mean when we say Indigenous land is ‘unceded’

Inside the Gidimt’en Checkpoint on Wet’suwet’en territory in December 2019. The camp was dismantled by Coastal GasLink contractors in early 2019, and then rebuilt and reoccupied. Photo by Michael Toledano

You might be living on unceded land.

To be more precise: the Maritimes, nearly all of British Columbia and a large swath of eastern Ontario and Quebec, which includes Ottawa, sit on territories that were never signed away by the Indigenous people who inhabited them before Europeans settled in North America. In other words, this land was stolen.

What to do about it, however, is deeply complex ⁠— and legal questions about how to handle claims to unceded land have become a subject of public discussion as members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in northeastern British Columbia have reoccupied their territory and attempted to block the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Similar cases over Indigenous land titles are moving through courts across Canada.

Canada’s Constitution is clear that Indigenous land rights exist, said Benjamin Ralston, a lecturer and researcher at the Indigenous Law Centre at the University of Saskatchewan. But in practice, fights over exactly what those rights are can take decades to resolve in court or in treaty negotiations, revealing “cognitive dissonance” in the system.

“The real problem is, what do we do about it now, while these slow processes are proceeding?” he said.

In the case of the Wet’suwet’en and Coastal GasLink, at issue is a divide between the traditional Wet’suwet’en legal system, Canada’s legal system, those who have stood to protect the land in question and those who want to see the pipeline built.

Under Wet’suwet’en law, authority over the nation’s 22,000 square kilometres of unceded territory lies with hereditary chiefs from five clans, who oppose the pipeline. However, there are also five elected band councils created by Canada’s colonial Indian Act, and some of the councils have supported the project.

A 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision affirmed that the provincial government can’t extinguish Wet’suwet’en rights to their land. However, the court also sent the case back from a second trial that hasn’t yet happened, leaving key questions unresolved.

Last year, the RCMP violently arrested Wet’suwet’en people and supporters in the disputed area, with the Guardian reporting earlier this year that police had been prepared to use lethal force. Earlier this month, the RCMP set up a checkpoint to control access to the area after a B.C Supreme Court judge extended an injunction to force out the Wet’suwet’en in the camps and allow construction on the pipeline to continue.

“We are not trespassing,” Ta’Kaiya Blaney, one of several Victoria, B.C., activists arrested and released after a protest supporting the Wet’suwet’en earlier this week, said in a video posted on Facebook.

Wet’suwet’en Nation territory in northeastern British Columbia is just one example of a dispute over unceded land.

“Coastal GasLink is trespassing, those cops are trespassing. They have no jurisdiction to violate Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous youth on stolen land.”

‘Duty to consult’ an imperfect solution

The Wet’suwet’en are far from the only ones asserting their title to their traditional lands.

In Nova Scotia, Mi’kmaq people have pushed for recognition of their unceded territory. In Ottawa, several Algonquin groups claim the land that Parliament Hill and the Supreme Court of Canada sit on. And in 2014, Tsilhqot’in Nation in B.C. became the first to prove title to their land in court.

In 2017, about 140 groups of Indigenous people who never signed treaties were negotiating with Canada’s federal government, the New York Times reported.

Several court cases have reaffirmed that the Canadian government has a duty to consult Indigenous people in cases that will impact their rights, which is meant to be an extra protection while land-title cases get resolved. But that protection is imperfect: duty to consult “is not necessarily going to give you the full benefit of stopping a project,” Ralston said.

In general, courts have also been reluctant to allow Indigenous land claims as a reason to block injunctions.

In a broader sense, however, there are international considerations as well. In November, B.C. passed a bill aligning its laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), a landmark document that, among other things, protects Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-government and right to consent to resource-development projects on their territories.

B.C. is the first Canadian jurisdiction to implement UNDRIP ⁠— the document was passed by the UN General Assembly in 2007 over Canada’s objections, and the country has so far been reluctant to formally implement it. It’s not clear how the document could play in future disputes.

In the case of Coastal GasLink, B.C.’s independent Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and the UN Committee on Racial Discrimination have all criticized the provincial government, saying Coastal GasLink violates UNDRIP principles.

B.C. Premier John Horgan, meanwhile, has said the province’s law is not retroactive and Coastal GasLink will go ahead. SOURCE

RELATED:

Coastal Gaslink pipeline threatens healing centre, says Unist’ot’en Camp

Wet’suwet’en solidarity demonstrations take place across Canada

(Activists march through downtown Ottawa. Photo: Brett Forester/APTN)

Marches and demonstrations took place today in cities across Canada as part of an “international call to solidarity” issued by the Unist’ot’en Camp of the Wet’suwet’en Nation – and more are slated for the weekend.

Five Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters oppose Coastal GasLink Ltd.’s (CGL) proposed $6.6 billion, 670-km pipeline that if completed would carry fracked natural gas across northern B.C. to a facility near Kitimat on the coast.

The company has what it needs from the province to continue construction, along with a new injunction to clear the way.

It also has benefit agreements with all 20 elected First Nations governments along the route.

The Unist’ot’en Camp fears a repeat of last year’s RCMP raid on the Gidimt’en checkpoint that saw 14 people arrested. That raid enforced an interim injunction. The new injunction was posted to CGL’s website Tuesday and gave pipeline opponents 72-hours to clear all obstructions.

Marching on the Streets of Ottawa

In the nation’s capital, roughly a hundred demonstrators marched west from Parliament Hill, passing the new Indigenous Peoples Building which sits right across the street.

Activists then delivered speeches in front of the World Exchange Plaza where the TD Bank is located. They moved down the road to the Royal Bank of Canada before completing their march at a makeshift campsite between the Prime Minister’s Office and the National War Memorial.

“I want to see them actually implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, respecting Wet’suwet’en law – back off on their land, retract the permits of Coastal GasLink pipeline – and to stop using force. Leave the land defenders and First Nation to live,” said Vi Bui, an event organizer with Climate Justice Ottawa.

Bui’s group and three different activist organizations marched through the streets of downtown Ottawa, chanting slogans. They voiced support for members of the Wet’suwet’en nation that oppose CGL.

Wet'suwet'en

(Ottawa’s Natalie Lasalle drumming across from Parliament. Photo: Brett Forester/APTN)

Natalie Lasalle, a non-status First Nations woman from Ottawa, said it’s “quite frankly disgusting” that B.C.’s Supreme Court granted an interlocutory injunction authorizing the RCMP to use force once again to remove blockades and arrest anyone obstructing pipeline construction.

“That’s not right,” she said.

“Native people are people, we deserve equal treatment, we deserve the right to our land, we deserve the right to our water, and we deserve the right to peaceful protest.”

Pat Taylor said her group, Extinction Rebellion, pitched the “climate emergency camp” to pressure the government to act on the issue of climate change.

Even though the company has signed agreements with elected First Nations governments, Taylor told APTN News that this doesn’t constitute free and prior informed consent.

“That’s a colonial structure that they have permission from. That is not the recognized government of the Wet’suwet’en people, and they have been on that land for time immemorial,” Taylor argued.

Wet'suwet'en

(Mi’kmaw activist Sophia Sidarous. Photo: Brett Forester/APTN)

Sophia Sidarous, a Mi’kmaw woman living in Gatineau, addressed the assembled crowd through a megaphone.

“They’ve accepted UNDRIP, and they’ve said that this is the most important relationship with the government is nation to nation relationship,” Sidarous told APTN afterward.

“But right now we’re not treated as a nation. We’re treated as criminals and we’re constantly criminalized under Canada. So I would really like to see them put their words into effect.”

Beating the drum in Montreal

 

In Montreal, guided by the beat of Marlene Hale’s drum, dozens of students and supporters gathered near the gates of McGill University – breath visible in the cold air – to convey their solemn message.

Touting hand-painted signs saying “pas de pipelines” or “no CGL,” supporters at Friday’s event – which was organized by the university’s Indigenous Affairs student group – were given the opportunity to write messages of support on pre-addressed postcards to be sent to Unist’ot’en camp.

“[The government] still doesn’t get it, they still live under a rock,” Hale told onlookers. “If you stop all these pipelines, all this atrocity that is happening to the Indigenous people worldwide – you will make a difference.”

Hale, a chef living and working in Montreal, calls herself “the only Wet’suwet’en in Quebec.”

As an “accidental activist,” Hale was thrust into the public spotlight one year ago while questioning the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a town hall in Sainte-Hyacinthe, Que., about the standoff on her home territory.

Even now, a year after that encounter, Hale says little has changed.

“My address today is to Prime Minister Trudeau. Where the heck are you? Why aren’t you here looking after your people?” Hale shouted. “We got you where we are today. You need to come back and do your job.”

Other First Nations representatives were just as openly critical of Trudeau’s perceived inaction.

“We see the way the Canadian government is acting, and reacting to traditional people. Mr. Trudeau talks about his country being based around law and order, but he’s a good liar,” explained Louis Pronovost from Kahnawake Mohawk Territory.

“We see through their actions, they’re not honorable people. They’re not honorable leaders. They’re liars,” he added.

Which, for Hale, augments the anticipation – or apprehension – that a standoff may erupt between the RCMP and the land defenders gathered near the worksite.

“We pray that nobody is going to be hurt. We want them to put their guns down,” Hale said.

“This is what we hold for guns – feathers,” she added, gesturing to an eagle feather held by a nearby supporter. “How can you put that down with an assault rifle? On elders, on young people who are land defenders.”

“That’s all they were,” she added. “They were not criminals.”

Although not physically present during the gathering at McGill, Ghislain Picard, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador, expressed his support and called the government’s previous “violent” arrests of community members “despicable.”

“It is frustrating and disappointing that the Government of Canada is once again committing to the principles of free, prior and informed consent on the one hand, but on the other hand, allowing projects without seeking to work with the First Nations directly affected by them,” Picard said in a statement.

“Clearly, no project will be viable if it is imposed by force on First Nations communities.”

“Canada’s been trespassing against First Nations…” 

 

Mi’kmaq grassroots grandmothers and about 50 supporters rallied in Halifax.

Alton gas protestors led by the grassroots grandmothers braved the cold in Halifax.

Thunderbird Swooping Down Woman occupied a camp at the Alton Gas project site.

At the rally, Woman told the crowd corporations only care about money.

“They don’t care about the land, they don’t care about the water, and that’s the sad part about this and that’s why we have to stand out in this cold to make a point,” she said.

The battle against corporations is coast to coast.

Melissa Morrisseau said she was at the Kinder Morgan blockade in Vancouver in 2018.

“If we don’t show them who will, and we have to instill that pride back into them and show them that together we can do this,” said Morrisseau.

Morrisseau said she will continue to protect the land.

“Canada’s been trespassing against First Nations people forever and it has to stop, it has to stop now,” she said.

SOURCE

Documentary filmmaker counters RCMP’s attempt to discredit Guardian story about Gidimt’en raid

The RCMP continues coming under criticism from people appalled by its decision to employ “lethal overwatch” on a raid on an Indigenous blockade on January 7.

The Guardian reported on December 24 that “gold and silver commanders” from RCMP E division participated in a strategy session one day before heavily armed Mounties arrested 14 people on traditional, unceded Wet’suwet’en territory.

The demonstrators were at the Gidimt’en Checkpoint in opposition to a 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline.

It’s being built to deliver fracked natural gas to the yet-to-be-constructed LNG Canada plant near Kitimat.

“The meeting notes, stamped with the name of RCMP Bronze Commander Robert Pikola of the ‘E’ Division, include the reference to ‘lethal overwatch’,” the Guardian stated.

Michael Toledano@M_Tol

PSA – RCMP are still occupying Wet’suwet’en territory with a semi-permanent police detachment under the leadership of the same cops that authorized “lethal overwatch” for the Jan 7 raid on Gidimt’en. Cops are with “CIRG”, the same unit that undertook the raid.

View image on Twitter

That prompted the following Twitter thread by Michael Toledano, a filmmaker who took pictures of the raid in January.

Michael Toledano@M_Tol

New Guardian story on the Guardian’s “lethal overwatch” documents identifies notes from RCMP Bronze Commander Rob Pikola and Tactical Team Commander Kevin Bracewell. They reference discussions that involved Gold Commander and Silver Commander ranks. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/24/indigenous-people-outraged-at-canada-polices-possible-use-of-lethal-force 

View image on Twitter

Michael Toledano@M_Tol

Here’s a photo of Rob Pikola, who commanded the raid on Jan 7. He was the last of the RCMP to engage with Gidimt’en before the gate was broken down. He was told by the Gidimt’en spokesperson that she would open the gate if he had consent from the chiefs. https://twitter.com/M_Tol/status/1084254368038187008 

Michael Toledano@M_Tol

Rob Pikola commanded the raid on Gidimt’en territory this Monday. Today he marched into #unistoten territory without seeking consent, with about 7 other RCMP, to escort Coastal Gaslink’s equipment. Photo by @CrystalDawnGee #Wetsuwetenstrong

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Michael Toledano@M_Tol

The new reporting should defuse the RCMP’s wildly defensive response to this story where, remarkably, they say they can’t find their own files.

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Michael Toledano@M_Tol

Here’s a photo of Dave Attfield (Gold Commander) and John Brewer (Silver Commander) at Unist’ot’en camp, who would have participated in these discussions. https://twitter.com/M_Tol/status/1094827801104936960 

Michael Toledano@M_Tol

RCMP Silver Command John Brewer and Gold Command Dave Attfield, who oversaw the raid on Gidumt’en, walked into #Unistoten today to demand a key to Unist’ot’en’s gate and the removal of their guard shed to increase access for man camp trailers. The Unist’ot’en matriarchs said no.

View image on Twitter
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20 people are talking about this

Michael Toledano@M_Tol

RCMP Gold Commander Dave Attfield wrote days earlier to mayors across BC, requesting additional police resources and QRT officers.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Michael Toledano@M_Tol

Here’s an email exchange with Brewer and Attfield pre-approving the press response to the Jan 7 RCMP enforcement, and the framing around “exclusion zones” for media and the public. Also approved for the release was a political reading of Delgamuukw, which RCMP apologized for.

View image on Twitter

Michael Toledano@M_Tol

RCMP Gold Commander Dave Attfield wrote days earlier to mayors across BC, requesting additional police resources and QRT officers.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Michael Toledano@M_Tol

Here’s an email exchange with Brewer and Attfield pre-approving the press response to the Jan 7 RCMP enforcement, and the framing around “exclusion zones” for media and the public. Also approved for the release was a political reading of Delgamuukw, which RCMP apologized for.

View image on Twitter

Michael Toledano@M_Tol

Despite the RCMP’s flailing, accusatory messaging that Guardian has damaged relationships that have been “years in the making,” cops have no one to blame but themselves.

Responding to unarmed people with assault and sniper rifles is clearly excessive and unwarranted.

View image on Twitter

Michael Toledano@M_Tol

It is dismal that is still flailing with this story and reproducing RCMP lines about “lethal overwatch” being an “observational” position, rather than, you know, an observational position with the potential for lethal force to be used. The Guardian’s take:

View image on Twitter
RELATED:

NEW VIDEO “INVASION” IS NOW AVAILABLE

Watch INVASION Now!


In this era of “reconciliation”, Indigneous land is still being taken at gunpoint. INVASION is a new film about the Unist’ot’en Camp, Gidimt’en checkpoint, and the larger Wet’suwet’en Nation standing up to the Canadian government and corporations who continue colonial violence against indigenous people.

The 18 minute film is powerful and covers many of the events of the last year.

Organize a community screening of INVASION

This fight is far from over. Getting this story out to the larger public is critical and you can do that by sharing INVASION with friends and hosting a screening in your community!

Simply download the film here, make a Facebook event using this graphic, and download and print the poster designed by Gord Hill and plaster around your town. You can host anywhere from a living room to a local theater.

You can pass the hat for donations to send to the camp and hold a discussion about how people can help further Indigenous movements for self-determination. If you plan to fundraise at your screening please use the fundraising guide and let us know about your event so we can help promote it!

If you need any help organizing an event or have any questions please shoot us an email!

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