Wet'suwet'en Steadfastly Demand Canada Uphold Hereditary Rights and Constitutional Obligations

The Prime Minister of Canada is very good at hooting and hollering about the rights of the Indigenous Peoples but its refusal to recognize their right to say NO! to its schemes to deprive them of the use of their lands in the way they see fit reveals that they are as intent on committing genocide against the Indigenous Peoples as were their colonial predecessors. 

The fight of the Indigenous Peoples itself shows what they stand for while the egregious and reckless use of power to "resolve conflicts" and differences of opinion through force, violence and the colonial courts shows what the federal and provincial governments stand for. 

The refusal of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs to accept the destruction by Coastal GasLink (CGL) of their natural habitat deserves the support of all. CGL is wilfully causing untold harm to the natural environment with the full support of the federal and provincial governments. Their positions are causing irreparable harm to the relations between members of Wet'suwet'en nation and between the nation and their natural habitat which, in conclusion, is their aim -- to smash whatever limitations emanate from the duty to uphold hereditary rights, treaty rights, constitutional rights and the verdict reached in Delgamuukw v. British Columbia (1997) which permits oral history as evidence in land claim cases and allows First Nations to negotiate the terms of use of natural resources with the Crown. In other words, it recognized that Indigenous title to their lands is incontrovertible. It cannot be denied or disputed. 

It will not do to change laws concerning how environmental assessments are to be made or negotiate deals with band councils, a level of government established under the Indian Act using fraud and force, or with private Indigenous businesses. CGL is running a series of advertisements on radio and elsewhere spouting long lists of Indigenous names and saying that it has negotiated deals with all those named. Whoever they are, this is meaningless, because CGL does not have the consent of the hereditary chiefs.

On January 24, Wet'suwet'en land defenders and traditional chiefs denounced CGL for destroying the spawning grounds of lamprey eel and disrupting the salmon habitat when the company began trenching Tsel Kiy Kwa (Lamprey Creek) and Lho Kwa (Clore River) as part of ongoing and reckless work to illegally force a pipeline through unceded and sovereign Wet'suwet'en territory. The Wet'suwet'en have demanded that operations be suspended pending the outcome of an environmental assessment now underway by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, as well as an investigation by the Environmental Assessment Office of BC.

Gidimt'en Checkpoint spokesperson and Wet'suwet'en land defender Sleydo' (Molly Wickham) stated in a press release that the Wet'suwet'en had asked CGL for a mitigation plan for the lamprey eels but were ignored. She noted that "The fact CGL has been blasting beside the creek and has heavy machinery in lamprey eel spawning habitat is ludicrous and a gross violation of our Indigenous rights to our culture, fish, and freshwater." She underscored that the hereditary chiefs have upheld Wet'suwet'en sovereignty and laws and have opposed this project for a decade.

For four years now, beginning with a paramilitary assault launched by the RCMP against unarmed Wet'suwet'en land defenders, the Canadian government along with the BC government has worked to ensure that the private interests of CGL prevail over the hereditary rights of the Wet'suwet'en and the fact they live on unceded land. All the ongoing violence and the criminalization have been sanctioned by the Trudeau Liberals in Ottawa and the BC NDP government under the hoax that the RCMP are non-partisan, doing their job of upholding the rule of law. These include three large-scale RCMP paramilitary invasions and assaults in January 2019, February 2020 and November 2021, in which the RCMP used assault rifles, helicopters, smoke bombs and attack dogs to threaten and intimidate the land defenders and their supporters. These raids have resulted in a total of 74 land defenders, legal observers and journalists being arrested and detained. The harassment is constant and illegal.

The BC courts have been used to impose private interests, ignoring the laws of the Wet'suwet'en people. Thirteen land defenders, including Sleydo', who were arrested in the RCMP assault in November 2021, are planning to defend themselves against charges of criminal contempt for defying the court injunction granted CGL to carry out their project.

In a press release last month, Sleydo' stated, "Indigenous Peoples have always been criminalized for being who we are and standing up for the yintah. British Columbia and Canada thought they wiped us out or assimilated us enough so they wouldn't have to use guns to control us anymore. But just like we survived genocide, we survive their militarized raids year after year because we understand the necessity to protect our way of life and life itself."

Canada's continued armed terror and violence against the peaceful and unarmed Wet'suwet'en people to achieve a so-called rules-based system which de facto does not have any duty to uphold hereditary rights will be its downfall. The RCMP must be withdrawn from Wet'suwet'en territory, the CGL project must be stopped because it has proven to be destructive to the social and natural environment on Wet'suwet'en territory and the criminal charges against the Wet'suwet'en land defenders and their allies must be dropped. Canada has no jurisdiction over Wet'suwet'en territory. The Wet'suwet'en must be compensated for the damage and suffering already caused.

(With files from Gidimt'en Checkpoint.)

This article was published in
Volume 53 Number 2 - February 2023

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