Some Indigenous people (sometimes referred to as land defenders) have been protesting the construction of a natural gas pipeline on Wet’suwet’en land.
Protests started in northern British Columbia, but many others have taken place across Canada, at rail lines, ports and government buildings.
The Coastal GasLink pipeline would be 670 kilometres long, running from Dawson Creek to the west coast of British Columbia.
The hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation point to a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997, about their traditional land rights. They say their land cannot be “developed.” (In this case “development” means altering the landscape from its natural state. For instance, to build a pipeline for natural gas.)
Some Indigenous groups blocked railway lines to draw attention to the situation. The blockade stopped trains from getting through, so goods (products) could not be delivered to their destinations. That affected many people whose businesses depended on receiving those goods. It also prevented people from using the trains for travel.
The protests were originally meant to bring awareness to the proposed pipeline development, but more people and more protests have taken place across Canada not only about the pipeline but about Indigenous rights in general.
The hereditary chiefs of Wet’suwet’en are leaders who had their titles passed down to them from previous generations. There are also elected Wet’suwet’en chiefs, who became leaders after being voted in by Indigenous people in the region. Those elected leaders signed an agreement supporting the pipeline.
It is a complicated situation, with many points-of-view. (A point-of-view is how one person or group views an issue, based on their values and experience.) It is important, especially in a complex and important issue like this one, to consider as many points-of-view as possible.
Some leaders and some Indigenous people support the building of the pipeline. Others are against it. Twenty First Nations councils, whose land is along the pipeline route, signed an agreement supporting the pipeline.
Many Indigenous people feel that holding a blockade and stopping trains is the only way to bring enough attention to the situation. They say that they have tried many other ways to raise awareness about this and many other issues but they have been ignored again and again.
Other people feel that the blockades must not be allowed, and trains must not be prevented from running and delivering goods. They also say that pipeline construction will give jobs to some We’tsuwet’en people.
Still others support both sides–while they don’t agree with stopping the trains, they also don’t support the pipeline on Wet’suwet’en lands if that is not what the Wet’suwet’en people want. Some are also worried about the impact on the environment of a natural gas pipeline.
On March 1, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief Woos and two ministers of the Canadian government announced that they had reached an “arrangement” about the rights and title to the traditional Wet’suwet’en territory. However, they said they will not announce details about that arrangement until they discuss it with the Wet’suwet’en people.
According to a CBC news report, Chief Woos said that the heredity chiefs still “remain opposed to the pipeline.” He said more discussions will be required, and the situation is not yet over.
THINK AND DISCUSS
There are many different groups and people involved in this situation, with many different points-of-view. Make a list of all of the people affected by the pipeline construction and the protests against it.
What do each of those groups think about the situation?
How important is the situation to them, and how does it affect their lives?
This situation cannot be boiled down to simply, “Pipeline or no pipeline.” It also involves traditional land of First Nations people and who decides what happens or does not happen to it.
Do you think there is any way to resolve the situation?
If you were in charge, how would you try to resolve it?
Bruce McIvor is a lawyer, historian and professor of Aboriginal and Treaty rights at the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law. He also works for First People’s Law Corporation. Here is an article he wrote called “A 5 Step Plan for Reconciliation” that you may find useful in answering the question above: https://www.firstpeopleslaw.com/index/articles/439.php
What are some of the historical things we should keep in mind, regarding the Canadian government and its treatment of Indigenous people, as we consider this situation? Why do you think it is important (or not important) to consider history when discussing this issue?
In a situation with as many points of view as this one, it is important to get your news from as many different and diverse sources as possible. Here are just a few of the many sources you can use to find out more.
The 1997 Supreme Court decision, Delgamuukw vs. British Columbia is the case that underpins much of the discussion about this situation.
Here is the Supreme Court of Canada judgment: https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/1569/index.do
Here is the Wikipedia page about it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delgamuukw_v_British_Columbia
CBC news article about Delgamuukw vs. British Columbia: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/delgamuukw-court-ruling-significance-1.5461763
Article by APTN news organization: Wet’suwet’en chiefs, ministers reach proposed agreement in land dispute, March 1, 2020: https://aptnnews.ca/2020/03/01/wetsuweten-chiefs-ministers-reach-proposed-agreement-in-land-dispute/
Globe and Mail article: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/british-columbia/article-wetsuweten-chiefs-ministers-reach-proposed-agreement-in-pipeline/
This Feb. 15, 2020 video by Global News featuring Indigenous Lawyer Naomi Sayers, explains some of the issues: https://globalnews.ca/video/6556112/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-wetsuweten-protests