Nothing About The Coastal Pipeline Has Changed. Why Not Just Say So?

The principle that leaders should be chosen by and accountable to the people they represent is not a mere colonial artifact. It is the cornerstone of how we are governed. That the principle is enshrined in the Indian Act, the subject of many valid criticisms, does not make it less truthful and important.

Three days of talks between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and ministers representing Canada and British Columbia concluded on Monday. The resulting tentative agreement is now to be reviewed with the Wet’suwet’en people, a process that is expected to take two weeks. It does not say anything about the pipeline.

There was no involvement of the council members who were elected by the Wet’suwet’en. When asked about this, the federal ministry responded that “the result of the discussions is an arrangement to guide the Wet’suwet’en Nation, British Columbia, and Canada in the recognition and implementation of Wet’suwet’en rights and title in an expedited process.

“The arrangement will now be reviewed by Wet’suwet’en clan members. Minister Bennett remains committed to open and ongoing dialogue with the Wet’suwet’en people and would welcome discussions with the elected chiefs. We understand that we are at a critical time, and we need to begin to build a new path together.”

The response from British Columbia likewise treated the elected leaders as being of secondary importance.

“Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs committed to bringing this historic proposal on a way forward to implement Wet’suwet’en rights and title to all Wet’suwet’en clan members for discussion and endorsement, which would involve everyone in the community, including elected leaders. We encourage hereditary and elected leadership to come together on this.”

The government of BC says “it is up to the Nation themselves to decide who speaks for and makes decisions on behalf of the Nation, based on their own rules and protocols. On the issue of Wet’suwet’en governance, these are internal matters for the Wet’suwet’en people to resolve.”

Quite so. But it appears that the hereditary chiefs had acted on their own in opposing the pipeline that was supported by the elected councils. Should not those elected representatives been at least equal participants in last weekend’s talks?

Speaking to reporters in Halifax Tuesday, Trudeau added fog when questioned about the Coastal Gas pipeline. He acknowledged the opposition of some Wet’suwet’en leaders has led to difficult times for many Canadians over the past few weeks.

He said his government has been focused on trying to find a solution, but added that current tensions stem from Canada’s dark history of mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. “We know that centuries of marginalization, of oppressive, broken government policies have created a situation that is untenable,” Trudeau said.

“It is not an easy process. It is a process we are all impatient with that needs to move forward, but we need to remain positive because the only path forward for our country is for all of us to work together and that is what we’re going to stay focused on doing.”

The succinct characterization by BC Premier John Horgan, speaking to the B.C. legislature Monday, provides a delightful contrast.

“This project is underway. It has been approved and ratified. It’s going to be completed.” He noted the tentative agreement with the Wet’suwet’en chiefs is “forward-looking,” dealing with their role in future discussions of land rights.

“There was not, at any time, any objective to go in and convince people to have a different point of view. We had a frank discussion. There was disagreement. The project will proceed. Dissent is appropriate. Unlawful dissent is not,” Horgan said.

Plain speaking is a wonderful thing. More political leaders should try it.


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