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

‘Not a joke’: Promoter wants to rocket-launch man the length of White Rock pier

Brooke Colby says he’s building an eight-foot rocket in his backyard

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Dry-grad cancelled, Elgin Park students make donation to food bank

Students donate $1,800 to food bank after being forced to cancel graduation event

Prospera Credit Union, Westminster Savings lay off over 100 staff following historic merge

2020 merger was largest credit-union merger in Canadian history

COVID-19: Daily update on the pandemic in Surrey, White Rock and beyond

MAY 23: There is an outbreak at a Lower Mainland fruit processing plant

LIVE: Procession to honour Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey comes to Halifax

Snowbirds service member died in a crash in Kamloops one week ago

RCMP facing ‘systemic sustainability challenges’ due to provincial policing role

Provinces, territories and municipalities pay anywhere from 70 to 90 per cent of the cost of the RCMP’s services

One man dead after standoff with Chilliwack RCMP

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the RCMP’s role in the death

Help the ‘Cloverdale Reporter’ continue its mission to provide trusted local news

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

B.C. employers worry about safety, cash flow, second wave in COVID-19 restart

A survey found 75 per cent of businesses worry about attracting customers

Ex-BC Greens leader Andrew Weaver says province came close to early election

Disagreement centred on the LNG Canada project in northern B.C.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money

Boy, 2, left with ‘soft tissue injuries’ after being hit by car in Squamish intersection

Boy was release from hospital, police continue to investigate

B.C. premier says lessons to learn from past racism during response to pandemic

B.C. formally apologized in the legislature chamber in 2008 for its role in the Komagata Maru tragedy

Most Read