B.C. Premier John Horgan meets with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief John Ridsdale at a community meeting in Witset, March 16, 2019. (Smithers Interior News)

Wet’suwet’en land title disputes an ‘internal issue,’ B.C. minister says

Memorandum ‘start of negotiation,’ Coastal Gaslink still opposed

The B.C. and federal governments have completed a video ceremony to sign an agreement with Wet’suwet’en heredity chiefs in northwestern B.C. to recognize their land rights, a deal rejected by elected band councils.

The memorandum of understanding was signed May 14 by hereditary chiefs meeting in Smithers, B.C. Minister of Indigenous Relations Scott Fraser from Victoria and federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett from Toronto, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Wet’suwet’en elected and some hereditary chiefs protested outside the office of the hereditary chiefs in Smithers as the ceremony went on, with one saying “we need to fix our feast system before we move on to title and rights.” Some leaders questioned the legitimacy of hereditary chiefs to represent the people.

Pandemic restrictions played a part in the lack of consultation with Wet’suwet’en members, some of whom say they didn’t get a look at the final text until May 9, again by video link.

“Those are internal issues,” Fraser said in an interview with Black Press after the ceremony. “I’ve heard some of those concerns. Following that I’ve worked with Minister Bennett. We’ve called all the elected chiefs and heard their concerns again. They were pretty much all around the process that they said was not appropriate, not sufficient.”

Fraser’s comments echoed those of Premier John Horgan on May 13. “What we do know is the Wet’suwet’en have to figure this out themselves,” Horgan said. “How they govern themselves is up to them.”

Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad, a former B.C. Indigenous relations minister whose constituency extends into the 22,000-square-km territory claimed by the Wet’suwet’en, pointed to a key flaw in the deal is that isn’t just matter of consultation. The agreement “will work towards eliminating the Wet’suwet’en peoples’ right to vote on their leadership concerning their rights and title,” Rustad said in a statement on the eve of the signing. “In my opinion, this is just wrong!”

Fraser said the role of hereditary chiefs in deciding land rights and title isn’t created by the memorandum, but by the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1997 decision known as Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa.

The memorandum was agreed to as B.C. and Canada dealt with widespread railway and road blockades targeting the Coastal Gaslink pipeline that gathered national and international support. Fraser acknowledged that the agreement doesn’t change the opposition of some hereditary chiefs, or the approval of elected councils in Wet’suwet’en communities who have signed benefit agreements for the pipeline.

MARCH 2019: Premier visits Witset for reconciliation talks

OCTOBER 2018: Hereditary chiefs say no to LNG pipeline project

Asked if he expects further protests actions over Coastal Gaslink, Fraser replied: “I don’t have a crystal ball for the future, but us working together with respect and recognition of all parties, I think it will help us resolve issues.”

Rustad said the agreement doesn’t meet the requirements of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), which the B.C. NDP government embraced with legislation in the fall of 2019, the first jurisdiction in the world to do so.

“According to UNDRIP, Indigenous people have the right to participate in decision making in matters that affects their rights,” Rustad said. “This has been ignored in this instance. The hereditary chiefs have NOT engaged with the Wet’suwet’en people. They have not sought their consent.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislatureCoastal GasLinkCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kent council votes 4-1 in favour of Teacup properties development

Coun. Kerstin Schwichtenberg was the only ‘no’ in difficult vote

MP Vis advocates for faster internet in rural communities

Less than 45 per cent of rural households in Canada have high-speed internet

Peace on the water

Harrison Lake was rather serene recently with the lack of usual traffic… Continue reading

UPDATE: Police oversight agency investigating after shots fired Saturday night in Chilliwack neighbourhood

RCMP reported a ‘distraught male’ fired at police officers on Christina Drive – IIO is on scene Sunday

Dr. Bonnie Henry given new name in B.C. First Nation ceremony: ‘one who is calm among us’

The provincial health officer was honoured in a May 22 ceremony at elementary school in Hazelton

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

B.C. man with Alberta plates gets car keyed and aggressive note

Some out-of-province people are finding hostile reception due to COVID-19 worries

B.C. drive-in theatre appeals COVID-19 concession rules, 50-car limit

With 50 cars and the removal of concession sales, drive-in owner says theatre might have to close

COVID-19: B.C. grants aim to stabilize sexual assault recovery programs

$10 million fund not yet ready to take applications

B.C. mom’s drug-pricing petition on behalf of son garners thousands of signatures

Petition geared to gaining access to new medicines drew support of Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl

Gabriel Klein’s sentencing delayed until September

Man convicted of killing Abbotsford high school student Letisha Reimer was set for June

‘Paralyzed by fear’: B.C. woman details anxiety, grief at Italian relief hospital

Sheila Vicic spent two months in Italy as the country grappled with COVID-19

CAMH survey looks at binge-drinking, financial anxiety during COVID

Alcohol may be used as a coping mechanism for those whose careers may have been sidelined due to the pandemic

Most Read