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

Kootenay doctor among 82 physicians, dentists calling on province for mandatory mask rule

Open letter says masks should be worn in indoor public spaces, public transportation or in crowds

The Fernie Museum reopens its doors to the public

Among changes, the Fernie and District Historical Society is also forming a new restart committee

Fernie Heritage Library encourages summer reading

The library is keeping children entertained with crafts and scavenger hunts

Whitehorse native Elias joins Michigan-Dearborn Wolverines

Johnny Elias played for the Fernie Ghostriders this past season

EDITORIAL: Editor bids farewell

Editor Paige Mueller will be leaving The Free Press team at the end of July

Airlines dispute Dr. Henry’s claim they ‘very rarely’ give accurate COVID contact tracing info

Air Canada, WestJet say they provide names and contact information

B.C. Appeal Court prevents Victoria woman from using the term ‘death midwife’ in her job

Pashta MaryMoon claimed she had been providing “death-care services” for more than 40 years

‘We all have anxieties’: B.C.’s top doctor addresses return-to-school fears amid COVID-19

Dr. Bonnie Henry promises school restart plan safe for B.C. kids

Abbotsford mom worried about her two kids in Beirut following explosion

Shelley Beyak’s children were abducted by their dad in 2018

Young Canadians, hospitality workers bear the brunt of mental strain in 2020: report

A study by Morneau Shepell points to economic uncertainty in the pandemic as the cause for angst

Health Canada recalling more than 50 hand sanitizers in evolving list

Organization says to stop using products listed, and to consult a health-care professional

Airborne hot dog strikes Greater Victoria pedestrian

Police called to 4200-block of Quadra Street for hot dog incident

B.C. scientist, 63, protests in trees set to be removed for Trans Mountain pipeline

Tim Takaro is reaching new heights as he tries to stall the pipeline expansion project in New Westminster

Dwindling B.C. bamboo supply leaves Calgary Zoo biologists worried about pandas

Zoo has been trying to send pandas back to China since May

Most Read