The following is a letter I sent to both the provincial and federal government representatives, hoping to hear a response back, and I think it is also important to discuss on a local level as well.
I am a Chilliwack high school student writing to show my solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people and to urge the B.C. and Canadian governments to act in accordance with the Supreme Court of Canada Delgamuukw decision of 1997, which granted Wet’suwet’en the legal rights and title to their own land. The continued invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory by both the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline and the RCMP is a direct violation of this ruling, and demonstrates the utter lack of respect for indigenous sovereignty and both Canadian and Wet’suwet’en law.
Despite the legal recognition that Wet’suwet’en do hold Aboriginal Title in the SCC 1997 ruling, which was defined as “Indigenous peoples’ exclusive right to the land,” the pipeline has continued to be built with support from the B.C. and Canadian government and without consent from any of the five hereditary chiefs. This disregard for the hereditary chief system of governance is especially disturbing, as it perpetuates the colonialist need to dictate the very way indigenous people govern themselves, and invalidates a system which has existed for thousands of years. The Coastal Gas Link pipeline passes through some of the 22,000 kilometres of ancestral Wet’suwet’en territory, and not any reserve land, therefore clearly requiring the approval of – and under the jurisdiction of – the hereditary chiefs, who are the titleholders to this unceded territory, and not the elected band council, who only have authority over reserve land and its infrastructure.
How can we, as Canadians, have faith in our legal system if our own government doesn’t abide by it? How can we have faith in a system which allows for the illegal and forcible removal of Wet’suwet’en people from their own territory by heavily armed RCMP? These acts are unconscionable, and no shady interpretations of law or wrongfully granted injunctions can excuse them.
BC became the first province to implement the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous peoples (UNDRIP), in November of 2019, and yet just months later violated article 10 of this commitment, which states that “indigenous people shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories.” Article 32 of this same document says that “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources…”; again, this article was violated as hereditary chiefs (who have jurisdiction under Wet’suwet’en law over the territory concerned) did not give free prior and informed consent, but rather the opposite.
After passing the UNDRIP legislation, B.C. Premier John Horgan stated that “Reconciliation is not just words, reconciliation is action,” yet these promises have proven to be empty, as the action taken in the case of Wet’suwet’en was not one of reconciliation but rather of invasion.
The Memorandum of Understanding, which was created in talks with both Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the federal and provincial governments and signed on May 14, 2020, will allow formal land rights to be negotiated and recognized, but does nothing in the meantime to stop the pipeline construction that is still ongoing. RCMP and Coastal Gaslink (CGL) continue to trespass on Wet’suwet’en territory as of November of 2020, most recently impeding Wet’suwet’en from hunting on their own land, and bulldozing traditional territory and culturally modified trees. This is very much still an urgent issue, as the Wet’suwet’en people’s way of life and very infrastructure that they rely on is being threatened by the presence of Coastal Gaslink on their lands, and the RCMP that escort CGL.
This corporate agenda of both the provincial and federal government paints a much more repressively colonial picture of reality than their so called “commitments” to reconciliation would have us believe, and it is one that comes at the expense of Indigenous rights and title, Indigenous sovereignty, and Indigenous livelihood.
In solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, I urge the B.C. and Canadian governments to cancel Coastal Gaslink’s permits immediately and withdraw the RCMP and other associated policing services from Wet’suwet’en land, and uphold their commitment to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and all of its 46 articles. Without this, any commitment to reconciliation is hypocrisy.
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to receiving a response from you on these urgent matters.
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