Wet’suwet’en: Why Are Indigenous Rights Being Defined By An Energy Corporation?

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AN UNSIGNED AGREEMENT between a Wet’suwet’en First Nation and Coastal GasLink along with financial documents obtained by Yellowhead Institute provide reinforcement to Yellowhead’s assessment of the ways these private contracts can dramatically undermine First Nation rights and jurisdiction.

The Impact and Benefit Agreement (IBA) and other documents were drafted in 2016, two years before the first payments were made to the First Nation. Because official agreements are not available to the public due to confidentiality clauses, these documents provide a valuable record of Coastal GasLink’s negotiating objectives.

In light of present RCMP raids, these documents provide important insights that support an emerging analysis around how resource extraction companies work with provinces to limit the scope of the Aboriginal and treaty rights.

One of the most alarming clauses in the document positions the band as paid informers to quell internal dissent within the First Nation against the project at the cost of “financial consideration” or payouts.

The document also introduces the possibility of future negotiations with the band on the pipeline’s conversion to crude oil.

Operating on unceded lands

The pipeline, a natural gas project by Coastal GasLink owned by TC Energy, has been approved by the B.C. government, but it is being opposed by Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary leadership in the region.

It has been criticized by Amnesty InternationalB.C.’s Human Rights Commission and the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination who say all First Nations affected by the pipeline should give free, prior and informed consent before it can proceed.

Provincial and federal governments, industry and the First Nations LNG Alliance have responded to criticism about the contentious project by citing the consent of elected band councils along the route. Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with 20 First Nations, including with each band council in the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

But the terms of consent this unsigned agreement seek to secure should raise serious concern for those watching the conflict unfold.

Irrevocable consent
According to the IBA, Coastal GasLink aims to secure “irrevocable consent” for the project from the First Nation.

The First Nation must also act to dissuade band members from engaging in any internal dissent within the First Nation against the project. The unsigned agreement reads:

  • “[The First Nation] will not take, and will take all reasonable actions to persuade [First Nation] members to not take, any action, legal or otherwise, including any media or social media campaign, that may impede, hinder, frustrate, delay, stop or interfere with the Project’s contractors, any Authorizations or any Approval Processes.”

Experts on IBAs have been warning for years that serious issues can arise when commercial law is used to interpret Aboriginal constitutional rights. With these agreements, we now see how. The draft agreement states:

  • “[this is the] full and final satisfaction of any present or future claim by [the First Nation]… against Coastal Gaslink… for any infringement by the Project of [the First Nation’s] Section 35(1) Rights.”

The extent of constitutional Aboriginal rights is being defined here by a private energy corporation, specifically limiting the exercise of Aboriginal rights. A separate provision affirms that the band can take legal action against British Columbia.

Future protection is granted to Coastal GasLink in the case that Aboriginal rights are expanded to the nation through legal or policy means. The draft agreement states:

  • “If [the First Nation] obtains any interest in land including Aboriginal title or ownership or jurisdiction over lands used by the Project… [the First Nation] affirms the Authorizations … will continue” and that these changes will not affect the Agreement.

Dayna Nadine Scott, a law professor at York University, has interviewed lawyers with experience drafting IBAs for a research project, due out in the spring. She says this language is highly problematic and is often referred to as “gag orders,” preventing communities from raising concerns when new issues come to light.

Therefore, the unsigned agreement restricts the band from challenging any of the company’s legal rights of development, even in the case of changes to the First Nation’s legal rights, as recognised by courts or governments.

Possibility for natural gas to crude oil conversion?
The unsigned agreement also raises the issue of the possibility of converting the pipeline for other uses.

Previously, First Nations in the region were almost unanimously opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline proposed by Enbridge, because it carried significant environmental risks, such as oil spills in coastal waters. Coastal GasLink garnered significantly more support, in part because of its pipeline would carry natural gas, not bitumen.

The unsigned agreement says: “Coastal GasLink will not convert the pipeline component of the project to use for transportation of crude oil, bitumen or dilbit without the consent of [First Nation].”

That line, “without the consent of First Nation,” means the subject of conversion was very likely raised in negotiations between the parties. The First Nation protected itself by confirming this change would require an amendment or a new agreement altogether to obtain consent for the change.

However, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs who oppose the project have not consented and signed an agreement. Therefore, it remains to be seen if Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs who oppose the project would be afforded the same opportunity.

Though B.C. introduced a regulation in 2015 against the conversion of LNG pipelines, it has yet to be tested and could be repealed.

A once-shuttered energy corridor could re-emerge if the LNG pipeline is built. Hydrocarbons are Canada’s biggest export commodity, with $129 billion CAD in exports in 2018. Enbridge was unable to secure a corridor through the region previously, but TC Energy, the owner of Coastal GasLink, is aiming to succeed.

Subsidizing dispossession

LNG Canada is already subsidized by the province of B.C. for $5.35 billion. A further $1 billion in estimated subsidies will be provided by the federal government in exemptions from tariffs on steel imports.

The provincial funding arrangement puts B.C. Premier John Horgan in a conflict of interest with Wet’suwet’en hereditary governments opposing the project.

Horgan has expressed concern about First Nations experiencing “systemic poverty” and characterized the Coastal Gas Link investment into First Nations as “a pathway to prosperity,” according to recent statements in the press.

But a substantial amount of financial support to First Nations are derived from public coffers. Rather than alleviate “systemic poverty” in communities directly, the B.C. government is channelling these dollars through energy companies. Therefore, making First Nation funding contingent upon support for pipeline deals.

The summary of financial benefits obtained by Yellowhead shows that B.C. will put up $1 million to the band in signing payments, $5 million in construction and in-service payments, and an estimated $40 million total in annual operation payments over 40 years.
These numbers confirm amounts committed in a Natural Gas Benefits Agreement signed between the parties.
Raid

As the RCMP descend on Wet’suwet’en territory it is worthwhile to reflect on how social license is achieved by industry to access Indigenous territories.

The provincial government has downloaded its constitutional obligations to energy companies to determine the scope and assertion of Aboriginal rights.

A hand-in-glove system, the B.C. government has supported the current raids through financial incentives that have forced communities apart.

With upwards of $7 billion on the line in government subsidies, the interests of Coastal GasLink’s viability appears to have been put far ahead of Wet’suwet’en rights, title and justice. SOURCE

RELATED:

The project of land back is about reclaiming Indigenous jurisdiction: breathing life into rights and responsibilities. This Red Paper is about how Canada dispossesses Indigenous peoples from the land, and in turn, what communities are doing to get it back.

READ THE FULL REPORT

RCMP, let journalists witness Unist’ot’en Camp

Photo from Facebook page of Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gidimt’en territory.

Members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation have fought for many years to keep three pipelines from running through their land in northern B.C. At stake, the protesters say, is their way of life, their culture and their system of governance which was recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in the landmark Delgamuukw decision in 1997.

I remember when the Wet’suwet’en first erected the Unist’ot’en Camp to uphold the clans’ decision to prevent Enbridge, Chevron and TransCanada from building pipelines on their unceded lands in 2010. Tensions rose as they built a blockade and confronted workers who attempted to cross it, saying they had no permission to be on their territory.

Last December, a report by the Guardian newspaper sent shock waves across Canada. The Guardian said it had uncovered documents showing that the RCMP discussed shooting Indigenous clan members and supporters, all in the service of gas and oil. “Notes from a strategy session for a militarized raid on ancestral lands of the Wet’suwet’en nation show that commanders of Canada’s national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), argued that “lethal overwatch is req’d” — a term for deploying an officer who is prepared to use lethal force.

Is this reconciliation? Hardly.

Is this making amends for residential schools, colonialization, the taking of lands and wealth? You bet it’s not.

Shockingly, a tweet from the Unist’ot’en Camp stated today the RCMP has blocked roads for 27 kilometers leading up to the site, barring media from witnessing and documenting their actions.

“We do not want to see a repeat of last year’s behaviour, when the RCMP used an exclusion zone to block journalists’ access, making it impossible to provide details on a police operation that was very much in the public interest,” Canadian Association of Journalists president Karyn Pugliese said in a tweet.

Pugliese has it right.

Even without the Guardian‘s report of the RCMP’s apparent willingness to use lethal force to remove people from the blockade, the RCMP should not be allowed to stop journalists from witnessing their actions.This is Horgan’s Scott Morrison moment. Like the Australia PM, Horgan is pushing fossil-fuel expansion in face of obviously dire climate change.

Now would be an excellent time for the B.C. Greens to show some backbone. Put Horgan’s govt on the line. If he proceeds against the Wet’suwet’en, dissolve the coalition. Force a new election.
As long as B.C. is going to follow neoliberal policies, the B.C. Liberals may as well be in power. But progressive voters must send a clear message to the NDP. We won’t accept this betrayal.

What have the Greens got to lose?

“Horgan says ‘rule of law applies,’ LNG pipeline will proceed despite protests” (Canadian Press: January 14, 2020)
A natural gas pipeline across northern British Columbia is vital to the region’s economic future and it will be built despite the objections of some Indigenous leaders, Premier John Horgan said Monday.
He said the courts have ruled in favour of the project and the RULE OF LAW will apply to ensure work continues on the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which would start near Dawson Creek and extend to an export terminal at Kitimat.

Horgan told a news conference the project has received approval from 20 First Nations along the pipeline route.

“We want everyone to understand that there are agreements from the Peace Country to Kitimat with Indigenous communities that want to see economic activity and prosperity take place,” he said. “All the permits are in place for this project to proceed. This project is proceeding and the RULE OF LAW needs to prevail in B.C.”

Horgan’s government adopted legislation late last year to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It mandates the government to bring provincial laws and policies into harmony with the declaration’s aims of reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

The UN declaration says Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination, which means they can determine their political status and pursue economic, social and cultural development. It requires governments to obtain “free and informed consent” from Indigenous groups before approving projects affecting their lands or resources.
BUT HORGAN SAYS THE DECLARATION DOESN’T APPLY TO THE COASTAL GASLINK PROJECT.

“Our document, our legislation, our declaration is FORWARD LOOKING,” he said. “It’s NOT RETROSPECTIVE. We believe it will open up opportunities not just for Indigenous people but for all British Columbians.”

https://calgaryherald.com/pmn/news-pmn/canada-news-

The BC Civil Liberties Association stands with the Wet’suwet’en, too:
https://bccla.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/2020-01-10-LT-RCMP-et-al-re…

Our wee co-op has also made such a statement:
http://ecoreality.org/wiki/Statement_in_support_of_the_Wet%27suwet%27en

Do you belong to a church group, charity, civic organization, or serve in local government? Your group is invited to do so, as well!
http://unistoten.camp/support-us/solidarity-statements/

This whole thing is wrong on so many different levels. The Wet’suwet’en is reporting that the RCMP is blocking shipments of food to their camps, during a bitter cold snap! “Starve them out” That thinking is so 1876. It is immoral.  SOURCE

RELATED:

Complaints filed against RCMP for blocking Wet’suwet’en access

Pipeline construction in northern B.C. began without archaeological assessments, Coastal GasLink says

The company says it had signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nations along the 670-kilometre route to LNG Canada's export terminal on the coast in Kitimat, including the Wet'suwet'en council.

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.

MORE

Judy Wilson’s Message for Canadians: ‘The Land Defenders Are Doing This for Everybody’

RCMP raids in Wet’suwet’en territory can’t bring justice, reconciliation or a better future, Neskonlith chief says.

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Chief Judy Wilson: ‘We have to change to ensure that our young people have a future. That’s what the Indigenous land defenders are talking about when they say we need to protect the land and the water.’ Photo by Zoë Ducklow.

What are your thoughts on how governments are responding to the RCMP action in the Wet’suwet’en territory?

I was just reading Premier [John] Horgan’s response to the Unist’ot’en, and I think he was trying to stay on the middle ground. He mentioned the bands who signed these agreements [to allow the pipeline], but to me, the issue is clearly about the hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs. They are the proper titleholders to their unceded territory, and they already made a decision. They said no pipelines in their territory.

Mike Smyth: LNG megaproject ‘full steam ahead’ but more protests loom

The political futures of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan are tied to the LNG Canada project.

The political futures of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan are tied to the LNG Canada project.DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Anything that threatens the massive LNG Canada project also poses an immediate political threat to Trudeau and Horgan….

Compounding that is the vow by First Nations protesters to keep fighting the pipeline in court.

“Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have, by absolutely no means, agreed to let the Coastal GasLink pipeline tear through our traditional territories,” the protesters said in a statement.

The Wet’suwet’en First Nation was part of the historic 1997 Delagmuukw decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that confirmed the existence of Aboriginal title over land. MORE

Wet’suwet’en First Nation attack: In Our Name

Prince Edward County author and social justice activist Michael  Riordon calls on us to defend the Earth with the Wet’suwet’en defenders and stand up for fundamental  justice


Photo: StarMetro Vancouver

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Currently one of the most vital front lines is on Wet’suwet’en First Nation land in “British Columbia,” Canada.  Wet’suwet’en defenders stand in the way of a zombie pipeline due to transport toxic liquid natural gas over their land to ocean tankers.  The land defenders are under siege by Canada’s national government and its police.  This whole abominable project is owned and paid for by the people of Canada, and promoted by the authorities – in our name.

Details here: https://dogwoodbc.ca/news/rcmp-wetsuweten-raid/

…and here: http://priceofoil.org/2019/01/10/shameful-trudeau-accused-of-violating-first-nations-rights-over-gas-pipeline/

The Wet’suwet’en defenders are putting their lives on the line, for the earth and for all of us.  Most of us can’t be there with them.  But whoever and wherever we are, we still have other capacities, including our voices.  Let’s use them well. MORE