Canada’s Indian Act blamed for creating a gridlock in northern British Columbia where some hereditary clan chiefs say a liquefied natural gas pipeline doesn’t have their consent.
VANCOUVER — Canada’s minister of Crown-Indigenous relations is pointing her finger at the Indian Act for creating a gridlock in northern British Columbia where some hereditary clan chiefs say a liquefied natural gas pipeline doesn’t have their consent.
Carolyn Bennett would not say whether she believes the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation have jurisdiction over the 22,000 square kilometres they claim as their traditional territory, saying that it is up to each community to determine its leadership structure.
But she says the situation is an example of why the federal government is working to increase First Nations capacity for self-governance, including a new funding program to rebuild hereditary structures. MORE
Pipeline owners say they have consent, but Wet’suwet’en leaders are divided
A security check-point at Mile Marker 27 where the RCMP have blocked further access to the Unist’ot’en near Houston, B.C., on Jan. 8, 2019.
Under Canadian law, the elected chiefs have authority over the reserves created by the Crown. But authority over the 22,000 square kilometres of traditional Wet’suwet’en territory involves a matrilineal system of 13 unique houses, five clans and 38 house territories. Under that system, Na’moks, who belongs to the Beaver house under the Tsayu clan, is one of the hereditary leaders obligated to manage how those lands and resources are used.
The project has sown deep divisions and put a spotlight on the conflict between those two systems of leadership – one ancient, passed down through oral tradition, the other established and codified by federal law. It has demonstrated the messy but necessary processes resource companies and governments must confront when pursuing projects in British Columbia. And it has forced Indigenous groups to face the tensions within their own communities – the painful trade-offs between economic development and ancient obligations of land stewardship. MORE
This situation is sort of a uniquely B.C. problem. Because the First Nations there don’t have treaties title over traditional lands hasn’t been dealt with
Elected chiefs are elected under processes established either through the Indian Act, the First Nations Elections Act, band custom or, in the case of self-governing First Nations, under the band’s constitution, explains The Canadian Encyclopedia. James Dempsey, a Native Studies professor at the University of Alberta, said in many places, a chief and council has simply become the accepted form of government.
“But you also have others that are trying to, to whatever degree they can, re-institute the traditional way of government and sometimes it comes into conflict with the chief and council,” he said.
From the time of birth the child would be groomed or tutored to be a wise, strong and responsible leader
Hereditary chiefs are just that, hereditary — a traditional form of government.
“Before non-native contact, a Wet’suwet’en heir began their journey to becoming a hereditary chief while still inside the mother’s womb,” says the Wet’suwet’en website. “Elders, Shaman’s and Chiefs would often feel the womb of an expectant mother and determine if the baby was destined to be a future Chief or Shaman. From the time of birth the child would be groomed or tutored to be a wise, strong and responsible leader.” MORE
Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition director reminds of hereditary chiefs’ authority.
TransCanada’s press release about their Coastal GasLink pipeline project having 100 per cent sign on with all the elected Indigenous bands is an incredibly misleading statement.
What the average Canadian does not know is that some of those bands (band councils) only have jurisdiction within their reservation boundary while the hereditary chiefs have jurisdiction over the traditional territories.
What I begrudge are the repeated efforts of industry and the complicity of the B.C. government in creating these deals with band councils when they know there are hereditary systems they need to consult.
In the case of the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan, the hereditary system has been tested in court several times and has helped form the very laws from which most aboriginal rights and title cases have been based. “The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs’ have never ceded nor surrendered their territory, nor have we lost it to war,” from time immemorial the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs mandate has been and continues today and into the future is to protect the land and its people. The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs do not endorse nor support pipeline projects that threaten the health and well-being of our lands and our people.” –DebbiePierre, executive director of the Office of the Wet’suwet’en. MORE
The RCMP moved Monday to break up a First Nations protest. Here’s how we got to this point.
Heavily armed RCMP officers arrived Monday to shut down Indigenous checkpoints blocking a natural gas pipeline. Photo by Michael Toledano.
Where is the Unist’ot’en blockade and what’s it about?
The gated checkpoint is on a forest service road about 120 kilometres southwest of Smithers in Unist’ot’en territory at the Morice River Bridge. Two natural gas pipelines are to cross the bridge to serve the Kitimat LNG project. Unist’ot’en is a clan within the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs claim title to the land, based on their pre-Confederation occupation and the fact that they’ve never signed a treaty. Their claim has not been proven in court.
The gated checkpoint is meant to control access to their traditional territory. A protocol for entry, based on principles of free, prior and informed consent, is publicly available. While the first checkpoint was built by the Unist’ot’en clan, all the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation have affirmed that their consent is required prior to any development. MORE