OTTAWA – The Green Party welcomed news that considerable progress has been achieved during talks between the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister, Scott Fraser. Members of the federal Green caucus, in close consultation with the leadership of the B.C. Greens, have been pressing the government to respect Wet’suwet’en land rights and title, as established in the Supreme Court’s 1994 Delgamuukw decision.
In January, Green MP Paul Manly (Nanaimo-Ladysmith) traveled to Wet’suwet’en territory to meet with hereditary chief Na’Moks, tour the territory and learn about Wet’suwet’en law and the hereditary system. He also met with RCMP detachment commanders who told him there would be no enforcement of the injunction while there was dialogue taking place to address the issues. “When I returned to Ottawa I drafted a letter to the Prime Minister urging the government to get involved in nation-to-nation negotiations before the situation escalated,” said Mr. Manly. “I personally delivered that letter to Mr. Trudeau, but I was informed that it was a provincial matter. Unfortunately, once the RCMP acted on the injunction, demonstrations broke out across the country impacting Indigenous communities and Canadians from coast to coast to coast.”
“I am relieved and grateful that the fundamental rights of the hereditary leaders over their traditional territory is finally being recognized,” said Green parliamentary leader Elizabeth May (MP, Saanich-Gulf Islands). ”This should have happened a long time ago. The Delgamuukw ruling clarified that the federal and provincial governments have a duty to consult with Indigenous peoples on any issues pursuant to their territory. What happened with the Coastal GasLink project was a complete failure on the part of the federal and provincial governments. We cannot say we are committed to reconciliation on the one hand yet ignore the aim of free, prior and informed consent on the other. Today I am optimistic that an important milestone has been reached.”
For over a month, Green Party MP’s have been pressing the government to respect the Constitution and the Supreme Court Decisions and negotiate in good faith with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. “This new agreement over land rights and title does not deal directly with the Coastal GasLink project but it opens up the space for a more respectful dialogue about that project,” noted Manly.
During the countrywide demonstrations Mr. Manly remained in close contact with Chief Na’Moks who shared documents and information with him about the issues that the Wet’Suwet’en were facing with Coastal GasLink. Mr. Manly shared these documents with government ministers and the Prime Minister while continuing to press for dialogue.
“Six years ago, the Wet’suwet’en had proposed alternative routes which would have been acceptable to them including an existing pipeline route,” said Mr. Manly. “Instead Coastal GasLink insisted on driving the pipeline through a pristine area that is culturally important and sensitive to the Wet’suwet’en people. Coastal GasLink ran their pipeline route right down the centre of the historic Kweese trail, a trail dating back thousands of years which has archeological sites, burial grounds and is an important place for cultural training, hunting, gathering and trapping.”
Full details of the weekend talks have yet to be released pending approval from Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders and community members.
Jenica Atwin (MP, Fredericton) highlighted the importance of recognizing the high costs associated with denying Indigenous title to unceded lands. “Project delays, RCMP overtime and legal fees, these costs mount up,” said Ms. Atwin. “We have to do better. There are no more excuses that can be made. We cannot say ‘we didn’t know’, we cannot claim ignorance on all of the standoffs that have come before this one. The lack of understanding, foresight and unwillingness to cooperate set the stage for this. Our governing officials should have been involved years prior to the blockades and all of this could have been avoided."
“The aim of free, prior and informed consent is to establish the participation and consultation of indigenous people prior to the beginning of any development on ancestral land,” said Green Party Interim Leader Jo-Ann Roberts. “Moving forward, as British Columbia implements UNDRIP, we hope that the federal government will prioritize its implementation from coast to coast to coast. The time for action is now, the Indigenous people of this country have endured too much, for too long.”
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