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

Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor has expressed concerns about the excessive freighters parked in the Salish Sea for quite some time. (Photo submitted)
MacGregor introduces bill to address problem freighter anchorages

Concerns about the environment, noise, pollution and safety abundant

The Cowichan Fury’s Conor Williams steals the ball from a JDF Kings player during Saturday’s Div. 3 match at the Sherman Road turf. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Cowichan Fury play to another tie on the road

Tolfo and Smith each score two for Div. 3 team

Halloween will be different this year but the CVRD and volunteers are working hard to make it special. (CVRD photo)
Youbou Halloween festivities a go, but digitally

Swing by the Hall to add to your haul

The Cowichan Bulldogs’ Ben Wilson runs the 40-yard dash during the Vancouver Island football combine at McAdam Park on Oct. 24. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Island football players meet in Cowichan for combine

48 players test their skills in bid for provincial programs

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

RCMP have released more details regarding what led up to an arrest caught on video in Williams Lake Sunday, Oct. 26. (Facebook video screenshot)
Review launched after ‘high-risk, multi-jurisdictional’ chase, arrest in Williams Lake

RCMP launching a full review and code of conduct investigation

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Pxfuel)
B.C. limits events in private homes to household, plus ‘safe six’ amid COVID-19 surge

Henry issued a public health order limiting private gatherings to one household, plus a group of ‘safe six’ only

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a drive-in car rally campaign stop at a tour bus operator, in Delta, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Andrew Wilkinson stepping down as B.C. Liberal leader

Will stay on until the next party leader is chosen

Campbell River's new hospital, July 2018
Nurse diverts opiates and falsifies records at Campbell River Hospital

Nurse facing disciplinary action for moving opiates out of the hospital

VicPD and B.C. Conservation Officer Service teamed up to free two bucks who were entangled in a fishing net and dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them. (VicPD)
VIDEO: Police, B.C. Conservation help two bucks caught in one fishing net

Bucks were also dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them

Most Read