Who’s Land is it? The Social Impact of the Wet’suwet’en Nation Conflict

Abstract
In my research, I chose to focus on the Coastal GasLink news article informing us that the Indigenous groups signed historic equity option agreements with TC Energy on Coastal GasLink, and the TheTyee News article, A Pipeline, A River, and an Indigenous Nation. The contrast between the media sources reviewed documentation from the BC Government, Coastal GasLink, First Peoples Law, and media from the Wet’suwet’en’s Fact Check documents to show the Band’s views of signing the documents to allow the pipeline to run through Northern BC. Other sources are used to reveal the truth and the social impact this has on the Wet’suwet’en people. Their rising conflict has been pushed by the Government, who imposed upon the Nation empty promises in appearance with financial and reconciliation ties with GasLink, Government Provincially and Federally. Their intentions prove the Colonialism and oppression from a false sense of ‘union’ when it has done the opposite by creating lasting detrimental effects on the water sources from the drilling to further oppressing the Wet’suwet’en people who are nearby the camps where they are working. This shows the opposite of any reconciliation. I conclude that the families of both sides of the Wet’s’wet’en people will be significantly affected by the pipeline and that the Nation is trying to protect the Earth from catastrophic damage this will have on food, water and world impact that will affect Canada Nation as well.

The voices of the indigenous people cry out through the living water, salmon, trees and lush forage in anguish over the colonialism that has shut out the title owners of the 22000 sq km of land in Northern British Columbia that belongs to the Wet’suwet’en Nation. The band on the reserves signed agreements approving the building of the natural gas pipeline under the disguise of progress and prosperity. However, this has caused a divide within the nation. The social impact bears deeper scars on the Wet’suwet’en people who oppose or approve of building the pipeline.

“The opportunity was made available to all 20 Indigenous communities holding existing agreements with Coastal GasLink and is an important step to the true partnership through equity ownership in the Project.”

(Coastal GasLink, 2022)

First, I question how GasLink can create a true partnership through equity ownership in the Project without having any title ownership. The 20 Indigenous communities that signed and agreed to a partnership with GasLink do not have the authority to make such a partnership agreement when the title of ownership belongs to the Wet’suwet’en nation hereditary chiefs.

“We call on the federal and provincial governments to meet with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs immediately and to address this issue in a manner that upholds the principle of reconciliation, the authority of the law of the Wet’suwet’en, the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the honour of the Crown.”

(Joffe, Avocat/Lawyer 2022)

The relationship within the Wet’suwet’en nation is splitting apart from the inside. Colonialism has been the driving factor of what moves a nation toward standing together or splitting apart. The government has blindsided the elected chiefs on the reserves by expounding on the division of documents of law. This division has strained relationships and reconciliation further when there has been deep internal conflict between the traditional governing system of Hereditary Chiefs and the elected chief and councils that follow the Indian Act. Again the Federal and Provincial government has taken advantage of the situation by using their power and money to override historical colonialism and make it look like reconciliation is the goal. However, they get the documents signed and begin building the pipeline without negotiating discussions with the traditional landowners.

Michel Bride, the Executive Director and General Council for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, spoke about how to solve the Wet’suwet’en peoples’ issue. He said to move the pipeline elsewhere than on their land, he said GasLink was going through Kamloops, but Kamloops did not want to put the pipeline through the Cemetery. Michel Bride also stated that instead, they are going through the territory of land owned by the Hereditary Chief’s Wet’suwet’en nation, which would involve building through their traditional gravesites. There needs to be a working dialogue to ensure all sides are involved in keeping relationships between nations and governments peaceful.

Two news stories will challenge you on how land and nations divide and what it looks like. For example, here is a CBC news article that writes how Coastal GasLink was warned more than 50 times concerning environmental violations during pipeline construction. How? There needs to be a better safeguard of sensitive waterways from sediment and erosion on the 670 Km pipeline route. The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change said they issued a total of 51 warnings, 16 orders and two fines with a penalty of more than $240,000 for repeated non-compliance. (Trumpener, 2022)

If we take a look at the news on the Coastal GasLink update, you can see how much they have accomplished with the immense work they are doing,

“Collaboration drives solution to meet world’s clean energy needs. To date, Coastal GasLink has installed more than 470 km of pipe across the 670 km route, and steady progress is made each day. Cumulatively, our team has spent 38 million hours working on this Project, with more than 6,000 people employed at its peak.”

(Coastal GasLink Update 2022)

At the same time, we have discord among the Wet’suwet’en people who are being bombarded with the impacts of the very GasLink workers preventing them from their duties. This is what Hosgood said in her article in The Tyee; she writes that back in February’s attack on the drill site, Coastal GasLink put in place round-the-clock security surveillance at the camp,

“Unist’ot’en Healing Centre, which has not actively interfered with pipeline activities since arrests in February 2020, also said in recent social media posts that residents are under constant surveillance by RCMP and Coastal GasLink security.”

(Hosgood, 2022)

Does this sound familiar? Whose territory is this that these articles speak of? When we discuss nations, we discuss the land we stand on out of honor and respect for our history of those who were denied the right to live freely on the land they rightfully own. This is not the way of the Wet’suwet’en people, and the government and the GasLink pipeline drill sites and worker’s camps are impacting families and livelihoods on their reserves,

“They record everything we do, the post said. “They recorded our elders and children changing out of their rafting gear & swimsuits after a cultural trip down the river. They follow us when we harvest & hunt. They record every visitor, and we cannot sit at our own Widzin Kwa without being watched by strange men with binoculars.”

(Hosgood, 2022)

The effects this has socially on a long historical background of discrimination and violence against them, they have stood their ground, still pushing forward while embracing land, water, and forestry in gratitude for the abundance of natural food sources; how is this impacting the nation as a whole?

Bevin Wirzba, the Coastal GasLink President, said,
“It’s an immense privilege to be able to work on a project that is building such an extraordinary legacy that will be enjoyed by so many.” Chief Mueller concludes, “Not only is this project providing jobs and economic benefits to local and Indigenous communities; this critical energy infrastructure will deliver energy security to the world for decades to come.”

(Mueller, 2022)

Meanwhile, CBC news reports, “A ministry spokesperson told CBC News in an email that sediment and turbidity can damage water quality and fish habitat, reduce sunlight in the water, and settle on wildlife and vegetation. Nevertheless, Coastal GasLink denies responsibility for Fraser Lake’s environmental violation.” The news piece shows a plume of brown sediment in Fraser Lake in April 2022 that is visible in an aerial photo from an environmental assessment officer’s inspection who was reporting on the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

“I woke up and tilled the land, I chopped the wood and structured a plan to foster strength in the elements of earth, water and air to grow in youth to foster and care. There is a way to use the natural resources, but when the salmon and water, and the people are at risk, without consent something is missed. Will it come to this? A stench of fluid kills the grass, my peoples’ stomachs burned from gas, the air is stale, and they wonder why the pipelines drilled and the salmon die.”

(Reeves 2022)

Reconciliation happens between two people, between two nations, this could mean Canada and the Wet’suwet’en nation forgiveness can happen provided the harm stops. Where does that leave room for reconciliation if a nation is divided and the land is torn apart? I looked up the word reconciliation. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it means “a situation in which two people or groups of people become friendly again after they have argued: it took hours of negotiations to bring about a reconciliation between two sides.” There can be no reconciliation unless the Federal and Provincial governments negotiate with the hereditary chiefs and work on a peaceful resolution.

This can only occur through the desire to want the best for the other. The elders today are the heart of our history. If we do not understand the culture, the flow that moves their lives in connection to the water and land of the Wet’suwet’en people, then we lose a connection to look past our greed and witness the commonality we have with each other. Then something damaging happens a nation divides in itself when unity has been lost, identity has been stripped, and the cries of the land of the Indigenous people bleed out from the red earth. The government says:

“Benefits Agreements. To date, more than 90% of First Nations along B.C.’s proposed northern pipeline routes have signed agreements. That’s 63 agreements with 29 First Nations for four proposed natural gas pipeline projects: Prince Rupert Gas Transmission, Coastal GasLink, Pacific Trail Pipeline, Westcoast Connector Gas Transmission. The Province has also completed a benefits agreement with Haisla Nation to construct an LNG facility and marine shipping terminal on their territory in Kitimat.”

(https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/natural-gas-oil/lng/indigenous-peoples-and-lng)

What are the benefits? The Province requires that the proposals include the following:

“Include guarantees of jobs, and training opportunities for British Columbia, provide a fair return for our resource, Respect and partner with First Nations’ Protect our air, land, and water, including living up to our climate commitments, Benefits communities.”

https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/natural-gas-oil/lng/indigenous-peoples-and-lng

There is always a viewpoint we can shift from our view and judgements to see it from a shift in the window of perception. Sometimes, it takes more than sweat and labour to build a nation from the ground up. It takes respect and gratitude and wanting better for our neighbour and environment.

“One of the first arguments we keep seeing in social media and the press is those who support the chiefs’ erroneous claim that only the Hereditary Chiefs have the authority to negotiate land claims. It appears that they think the more they say it, the more it becomes the truth; however, it’s far from the truth.”

(Two Feathers, 2020)

That quote was from the Viewpoint from the North. I can see it is not easy to trust the media. We have to go to the roots. One person at a time, to create a socially sound community by listening and trying to find the commonality in governing relations to make a change for the better. This cannot happen when money and power are what are being planted in the fields of the territories.

Who’s land is it? The Indian Act says… The First People’s law says…The Bands on the reserve says… you say…. The media say….the government say… GasLink say… Let us go back to the basics,

“Chief George Desjarlais of Treaty 8 put it this way in his testimony to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: “We are treaty people…We agreed to share our lands and territories with the Crown. We did not sell or give up our rights to the land and territories. We agreed to share our custodial responsibility for the land with the Crown. We did not abdicate it to the Crown.” (Asch 2021)

(Asch, Borrows, 2018)

Who do the Wet’suwet’en people belong to? Is it by the people who govern them or by the laws imposed upon them from years of dehumanization by state systems? What will the pipeline cost from the social impact this has made on the people and their families? We must respect the lands we tread on, and if it isn’t given to me, I should befriend the one who owns it and work together despite the power of state systems that aim to break community and divide people. Those who live under a nation’s territory must seek to build peace in a world that strips the nation of its dignity.

Citation

Asch, Michael, John, Borrows, James Tully, October 2018, Resurgence and Reconciliation: Indigenous-Settler Relations and Earth Teachings, Published imprint University of Toronto Press https://utorontopress.com/9781487523275/resurgence-and-reconciliation/

Coastal GasLink, March 10, 2022, Indigenous groups sign historic equity option agreements with TC Energy on Coastal GasLink
https://www.coastalgaslink.com/whats-new/news-stories/2022/2022-03-10-indigenous-groups-sign-historic-equity-option-agreements-with-tc-energy-on-coastal-gaslink/

Hosgood, Amanda Follett, 2022, A Pipeline, A River, and an Indigenous Nation,
TheTyee A Pipeline, a River and an Indigenous Nation | The Tyee

Joffe, Paul, Avocat/Lawyer, First Peoples Law, Open Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Horgan Re: We’’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs’ Opposition to Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project (2020) https://www.firstpeopleslaw.com/public-education/blog/open-letter-to-prime-minister-trudeau-and-premier-horgan-re-wetsuweten-hereditary-chiefs-opposition-to-coastal-gaslink-pipeline-project

Paikin, Steve, The Agenda, YouTube, Wet’suwet’en: A Nation Divided

Paikin, Steve, The Agenda, YouTube, Wet’suwet’en: A Nation Divided

Provincial BC Government, Liquefield Natural Gas, Indigenous Peoples and LNG https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/natural-gas-oil/lng/indigenous-peoples-and-lng

Trumpener, Betsy, 2022, CBC News, Coastal GasLink warned more than 50 times over environmental violations during pipeline construction, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/coastal-gaslink-pipeline-environmental-violations-warnings-1.6570441

Two Feathers, 2020, Wet’suwet’en Fact Check, Bands Authority vs. Hereditary Chiefs Authority regarding Land Claims, Bands Authority vs. Hereditary Chiefs Authority regarding Land Claims – Viewpoint from the North (bc-north.com)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wetsuweten.svg#:~:text=DeNovoa2%2C%20CC%20BY%2DSA%204.0%20%3Chttps%3A//creativecommons.org/licenses/by%2Dsa/4.0%3E%2C%20via%20Wikimedia%20Commons

Published by Okanagan Valley View - Views on the Go

I am currently a second-year student in Communications, Culture, and Journalism at OUC who hopes to attend UVIC to further my education. I have shifted my educational focus to be a part of the community's communication solution and advocacy work. I am originally from Ontario and love the Fall season there, and I also love the fall season here in BC. I have always loved writing and current events. My five-year plan is to write and advocate in the community by strategically planning and developing ways to minimize the information overload and investigate false ideas of support. I am also a Mother, OFS, daughter, Auntie, sister, and friend. I am a writer and an Independent Contractor.

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