KITIMAT, B.C.—The company behind a controversial natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia says construction began in a number of places before archaeological assessments were complete.
Coastal GasLink says an internal audit found there were two areas along the right of way east of Kitimat where land was cleared before archaeological impact assessments occurred.
It says the assessments are conditions of the permits issued by the BC Oil and Gas Commission and the B.C. government’s Environmental Assessment Certificate.
Coastal GasLink says it has suspended all clearing activity in the area until an internal review is complete and actions are taken to prevent it from happening again.
It says it has also notified affected Indigenous communities and welcomes their participation in post-impact assessments.
The Coastal GasLink pipeline inspired global protests when hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation said it had no authority without their consent.
Steel pipe to be used in the oil pipeline construction of the Canadian government’s Trans Mountain expansion project lies at a stockpile site in Kamloops, British Columbia, June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Dennis Owen
This video outlines why pipelines will not be allowed by the Wet’suwet’en People on their unceded territory. Hereditary Leaders from Across BC stand behind Wet’suwet’en and the assertion of their Traditional Laws.
The Wet’suwet’en are reoccupying their land to assert their sovereignty.
The Trudeau government continues to talk about ‘the rule of law‘ while ignoring the traditional hereditary chiefs and indigenous law.
Robert Hamilton asks, can state and Indigenous legal regimes co-exist? For example,
“In January 2019, Wet’suwet’en peoples were forcibly removed from the path of the [Coastal GAsLink] pipeline. This conflict showed the displacement of Indigenous law in two ways. The first was the displacement of traditional governance institutions with imposed Indian Act governance. The second was the imposition of a rights regime that excludes Indigenous modes of tenure and jurisdiction until they are proven in court through an Aboriginal title analysis.”
Members of the Tŝilhqot’in Nation held a peaceful protest against an exploratory drilling program that they say will have devastating effects on Teẑtan Biny (Fish Lake) and the surrounding area. Photo by Nolan Guichon
Protesters arrive in support of the Unist’ot’en camp and Wet’suwet’en First Nation in Houston, B.C., on Jan. 9. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press, via AP)
Canadian governments tend to talk to the indigenous governments recognized by the Indian Act, which, since 1876, has required any “body of Indians” holding claim or trust to organize themselves through elected councils. Though politicians claim to find the Victorian paternalism of the Indian Act distasteful, the notion that aboriginal governments should conduct themselves democratically seemed among its least contentious provisions. Yet a recent jurisdictional struggle highlights the degree to which even that assumption can no longer be taken for granted.
The council of the Wet’suwet’en Nation has authorized construction of a natural gas pipeline through their claimed territory, but the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have not. Forces loyal to the chiefs set up blockades and earlier this month mobilized outrage among indigenous Canadians and the Canadian left. The notion that elected aboriginal councils are colonial impositions at odds with “traditional governance structures” like hereditary monarchies has burst into the mainstream. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who theoretically backs natural resource development but also vows to make aboriginal “reconciliation” the hallmark of his tenure, has conceded to indigenous nations that “it’s not for the federal government to decide who speaks for you.”
Yet if the federal and provincial governments (to say nothing of private industry) are going to have any useful relationship with the true owners of British Columbia, at some point someone, somewhere, has to give the question of “who speaks for the aboriginals” a definitive answer. In some corners, even framing the question elicits offense. Canada’s First Nations are collectivist and egalitarian, they say, meaning community consent may emerge slowly, through gradual consensus between leaders and people. MORE
Governments of B.C. and Canada claim agreements with elected band councils constitute consent, even though Supreme Court cases — including 1997’s Delgamuukw versus the Queen, which involved the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en — have recognized traditional governance forms, including the hereditary chief and clan system, on traditional territories. Elected band councils are more like municipal councils that have limited jurisdiction only over reserve lands.
The hereditary chief system was in place long before settlers and colonizers arrived. Chiefs, clans and house groups are responsible to the land and the people, and chiefs can be removed if they fail to fulfil their duties. The band council system is a product of the Indian Act, which also gave us residential schools.
As my good friend Miles Richardson, David Suzuki Foundation board member and former head of the B.C. Treaty Commission and Haida First Nation, told the Vancouver Sun, “When you look at the political world and the relationship between First Nations and the Crown, there’s a mighty struggle going on between two world views. There’s the Indigenous worldview manifested in the nation-to-nation commitment, and the colonial view, a 200-year-old, failed policy that was denounced by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and apologized for.” 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
The facts about aboriginal rights and title support the Wet’suwet’en peoples in their pipeline protest.
The Wet’suwet’en land defenders and their supporters attempt to stop RCMP officers from enforcing an injunction. Photo by Michael Toledano.
The people defending the land are comprised of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their people, who want to ensure that their lands are protected so they can continue to practise their rights to hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering, and exercise their right to clean air and water and a healthy environment. Pipelines, they say, are a threat to these rights that the Wet’suwet’en people value.
Neither the elected chief and band councils that support the pipeline, nor the federal or provincial governments, nor Coastal GasLink ever obtained the consent of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters. And that’s what’s at issue here. MORE