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Shameful shit

February 14, 2020

There is some shameful and some truly inspiring shit going down in Canada this week.

When I moved to British Columbia in 1990, one thing I learnt shocked me. Unlike the rest of the provinces in Canada where first the British government and then the Canadian government negotiated treaties (which, usually sooner, sometimes later, they broke) with the First Nations of the land, by the time white settlers made it to the country’s most western territory, all bets were off and the attitude was simply: “We stole it fair and square.” When I arrived in 1990, not a square inch of First Nations territory in the province had ever been ceded. I was shocked and ashamed.

Roughly 25 years ago, the BC government began the long, long overdue process of negotiating land claims with the province’s many First Nations bands. The process is ongoing.

Before I go any further I should issue a disclaimer. I am writing this in haste and have not done the amount of due diligence I normally might before issuing a rant, so some of what follows may not be 100% accurate.

For centuries, long before the French or the English turned up, the First Nations communities of North America were led by hereditary chiefs, the much-respected elders of the various bands. The Canadian authorities did not like this system of governance and in Section 74 of the 1876 Indian Act (long, long, long overdue for repeal) imposed a system of elected band councils, with whom the federal and provincial governments would solely negotiate.

Which leads us to this week.

The Wet’suwet’en elected council negotiated a deal with a company called TC Energy to permit the construction of the Coastal GasLink liquefied natural gas pipeline through their territory. The five hereditary chiefs were not consulted and they are very much opposed to the pipeline. Many, many band members agree with the hereditary chiefs and they set up a blockade to stop construction. Eventually BC Premier John Horgan sent in the RCMP to heavy-handedly break up the blockade.

That’s when the inspiring shit hit the fan.

For the past week Indigenous and non-indigenous activists across the country have come out in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, disrupting rail traffic from coast to coast, blocking major intersections with masses of demonstrators in cities from Halifax to Vancouver. Watching this unfold has been truly awesome.

Last October, Premier Horgan’s NDP government was widely lauded for tabling legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, the first legislative area in Canada to do so. (An attempt to implement UNDRIP into law federally fell in the Senate.)

It seems this white man speaks with a forked tongue. Whatever the damned law of the land might be, Horgan must know it is wrong to exclude the opinions of hereditary chiefs from land use and resource negotiations.

I’m not saying all hereditary chiefs are good and all elected band councils are bad. Far from it. What I’m saying is: show some respect. Or suffer the consequences.

I am ashamed of BC’s NDP government. I am ashamed of the premier. I don’t know enough about Doug Routley, my own Member of the Legislative Assembly to be thoroughly ashamed of him, but I thought I knew enough about Sheila Malcolmson, another local MLA, to be ashamed of her silence on this issue. I do know Routley will never get my vote again. Shame on all of you.



Happy Valentine’s Day.


From → Columns

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