The agreement immediately recognizes that Wet’suwet’en rights and title are held by the nation’s own system of governance, and include a commitment to beginning negotiations on legal recognition of Wet’suwet’en title to their traditional land.
Chief Gisday’wa was one of the plaintiffs in the landmark 1997 Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa case, which led to a Supreme Court decision that recognized Wet’suwet’en system of laws that predates colonialism.
The deal was struck in February, amidst nation-wide protests in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en nation against the construction of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline, planned to run through 190 km of Wet’suwet’en traditional territory.
The slogans ShutDownCanada and All Eyes on Wet’suwet’en swept the nation in January and February, with protestors showing support from all around the Wet’suwet’en as rail blockades halted access from Montreal to Toronto in solidarity.
The 670 km long natural gas pipeline is planned to carry gas from a town in eastern BC to a liquefaction plant on the west coast of the province, where the gas will be exported to Asian customers. It is known as the largest private sector investment in Canadian history.
While five of six elected band council members agreed with the project, the hereditary chiefs, whose role within the nation is to make decisions over the land, say they never consented. The dispute made global headlines, with UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called for immediate withdrawal as RCMP raided the Unist’ot’en camp with guns in tow.
The Wet’suwet’en are just one of many First Nations in the province that have been attempting to negotiate jurisdiction, recognition of ownership, and self-government since Europeans began to settle on their traditional land in the 1800s.
“This is not just an indigenous issue, this is a human rights issue, the rights for us to be who we are as Wet’suwet’en People,” Cheif Na’Moks said at the virtual signing.
The Wet’suwet’en have never signed a treaty or relinquished their rights to the 22,000km of land they have been inhabiting since pre-colonial times.
“There’s no turning back,” said Marlene Hale, a chef from Wet’suwet’en who led protests in Montreal. She says the MOU represents a step towards reconciliation.
“It’s a signal to the government that we may have agreed to start this work by starting the talks and negotiations,” she continued. “They will walk the path of reconciliation with us. That’s very important. The rights and titles will be recognized.”
In 1984, leaders of the Gitxcan and Wet’suwet’en First Nations took the BC provincial government to court to establish jurisdiction over 58 000 km of both land and water. The fight for recognition of ownership of the land had climbed to urgency when a hydroelectric project established by the BC government in the 50s caused major damage to the area of multiple First Nations groups, including the destruction of homes and of sacred burial ground.
As clear-cut logging projects were approved by the BC government, members of the Gixdan and Wet’suwet’en nations opposed the building of a second hydro project, the First Nations appealed the decision and the case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada. During the trial, The First Nations group provided evidence to their historical ownership of the land by using oral history; witnesses spoke in their own languages, using translators to tell the long history of the land and water in the territory.
Ceremonial songs and performances, reciting the adaawk, personal bloodline histories of the Gitxsan, and kungas, songs about trials between territories of the Wet’suwet’en.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled oral history to be evidence of pre-colonial land ownership, and ruled that the right to the Nations’ land had not been extinguished.
The Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa case made headlines as the most comprehensive decision about Aboriginal title, which legally states that “the existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed”. While the case affirmed that the Wet’suwet’en may still have ownership of their land, any further decisions were not made.
The MOU, Hale said, “leads to a consensus on the government to implement the 1997 Supreme Court Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa [case] – it was really putting it official.”
The fight was still far from over. Land rights have yet to be clearly defined and articulated in court, even though it had been acknowledged that the Wet’suwet’en never signed over their land in a treaty.
In 2010, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and land defenders built the Unisto’ten Camp as a means to block the development of numerous proposed pipeline projects that would cut through the First Nation’s territory. Hereditary chiefs held their opposition to Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, a pipeline project whose’ path was similar to the future CGL.
A permaculture garden and a traditional pithouse were built on site, bringing life to the conflict, used for shelter are included in the camp which lays at the exact point pipelines would cross into Unis’to’ten Wet’suwet’en territory.
Though the ENGP project never went through, the CGL pipeline was officially approved in 2015, with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs remaining in opposition.
In 2014, Tsilhqot’in Nation in B.C. became the first to prove title to their land in court.
In another landmark Supreme Court ruling, provinces cannot unilaterally claim a right to engage in clear-cut logging on lands protected by Indigenous Peoples; they have to engage in meaningful consultation with the Aboriginal title-holder before proceeding.
“This is the first time I think that any of the governments have taken any real steps forwards towards trying to find reconciliation towards Indigenous Peoples,” said Chief Smogelgem during the MOU signing. “This is a significant time for our nation,” he continued. “It’s a significant time for everybody, all around the world. Not just because of the pandemic, but because of the work that we’re about to do today which is working actually towards true reconciliation. It is no longer a political catch phrase – this is something that is going into action.”
The 1876 Indian Act, which charted an assimilationist policy towards the Aboriginal peoples in Canada, made it illegal for Indigenous Peoples to raise money or hire lawyers for land claims. This was not lifted until 1951.
The Wet’suwet’en uses a “mixed governance system” that uses both hereditary and elected chiefs, who all play different roles within the community. The elected band council is a position that stemmed from the Indian Act to bridge Canadian government with First Nations. It is different from the traditional position of the hereditary chief, where hereditary chiefs attain governing power by consensus.
It is their job to protect the land and assure its safety for future generations, a continuation of the work of their ancestors that will be passed down to future generations.
“We always knew that we had 22 000 square kilometers of land,” said Chief Na’Moks at the virtual signing.
For Marlene Hale, May 14 is a new day to mark on the calendar – a celebration. “Wiggus – respect – rides high with our people,” she said. “And it was not respected, that word. It is now, it is existing and it is respected. By them signing, this wiggus has come to light again.”
“We’re here to make a future, because this is who we are. We’ve always held our integrity, we’ve always held our honesty, we’ve always held our respect. From this day forward, it has to be reciprocal. When we speak, we must be listened to. When we come to an agreement, it’s an agreement from the heart, the soul and for the future, and we have to do it for everybody.”
“When our children and grandchildren and great grand children look upon this day, I want them to look back on this for a smile on their face,” he continued. “Those ladies and gentlemen did it for us, and now we’re doing it for them. And it has to be done with honesty and hard work. Today the work starts, the real hard work starts. And there will never be another piece of legislation of policy that will ever silence the Wet’suwet’en again.”
It’s important to note that while the Memorandum of Understanding is an important step forward for aboriginal rights, it does not affect the Coastal GasLink Pipeline which is currently being built.
Featured image by James Hyett via WikiMedia Commons
When you look back on 2016, you may think of all the greats we lost like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and, most recently, Carrie Fisher and her mom Debbie Reynolds. You may also remember it as the year the UK decided to leave the EU or the year the US decided to leave its senses politically.
No matter how you saw it, though, you have to admit that quite a bit happened. With that in mind, we take a look back at 2016 in the News.
As this post had two authors, parenthetical initials indicate if the section was written by Jason C. McLean (JCM) or Mirna Djukic (MD).
2016 was the first year of the post-Harper era and it was an agitated one in federal politics.
Justin Trudeau’s popularity soared for a while, still largely carried by the expectations built during his campaign and his undisputable quality of not being Stephen Harper. To his credit, he did score some significant points in his first months in office by immediately opening the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and rebuilding relationships with our neighbours (which gave us both the most hilarious handshake attempt of all time and the TrudObama Bromance).
One of the first flies in the ointment was the infamous #elbowgate incident in the House of Commons. Last May, the Prime Minister took it upon himself to escort Conservative Whip Gordon Brown through a cluster of opposition MPs in order to move the procedures along and accidentally elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest. This was perhaps a fairly embarrassing show of temper for the PM, but it degenerated into something out of a Shakespearian comedy in the following days, with Trudeau issuing apology after apology and the opposition throwing words like “molested” around.
Inopportune elbows aside, the Liberals took quite a few steps during the year that caused the public to question how different they really are from their predecessors. Not only did they go through with the $15 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia, but they also quietly changed the country’s policies about export controls to ensure that they could continue to trade arms with shady regimes with a lot less obstacles.
As for the Greens, they started the year as the underdogs who were doing unexpectedly well. The increased attention, though, revealed a world of messy internal struggles. These started when the party voted in favour of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Leader Elizabeth May disliked this so much that she considered resigning. (MD)
Indeed, discrepancies between the government’s discourse and their actions accumulated throughout the year. None was more flagrant than their attitude toward pipelines.
The Liberals campaigned on promises to restore the trust of Canadians in the Environmental Assessment Process, “modernize” the National Energy Board and make Canada a leader in the worldwide climate change fight. Trudeau was the first to admit that the current environmental assessment protocols were immensely flawed and he mandated a committee to review them.
While still waiting for their conclusions, though, he had no problem with major projects still being approved by that flawed process. He had no comments when it was revealed that the NEB board members in charge of reviewing Energy East had secretly met with TransCanada lobbyists nor when indigenous resistance against various projects started rising.
If he thought that the population was on his side, or that they would remain passive about it, he was sorely mistaken. In August, the NEB consultations about Energy East were shut down by protesters. Anger and mistrust towards the NEB only grew after that, with environmental groups calling for a complete overhaul.
None of this stopped the government from approving two contentious pipelines in late November. Both Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project and Enbridge’s Line 3 were officially accepted. Fortunately, they did reject Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, which was set to go through the Great Bear Rain Forest. (MD)
2016 was the year that saw the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe emerge victorious (for the moment) over big energy and the North Dakota Government.
In July, Energy Transfer Partners got approval for the $3.78 Billion Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, the tribe’s only source of drinking water. The plan also saw DAPL cut across sacred burial grounds.
The Standing Rock Sioux challenged this both in court and with water protectors on the front lines. They invited others to stand in solidarity with them and assembled the largest gathering of Native American tribes in decades.
Things came to a head on Labour Day Weekend early September when DAPL sent private corporate security to attack the water protectors with pepper spray and dogs. Democracy Now’s shocking footage of the incident got picked up by major networks and there finally was major media attention, for a while.
As more people joined the camp and solidarity actions, including Facebook Check-Ins from around the world, increased, corporate media interest waned. Meanwhile the Governor of North Dakota Jack Dalrymple activated the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which brought law enforcement from ten different states to Standing Rock.
With most media focused on the elections, police used tear gas and water cannons on water protectors in freezing temperatures. The US Army Corps of Engineers sent an eviction notice demanding the camp be cleared by December 5th and roadblocks went up.
The Sioux Tribe’s infrastructure survived, however, and once 4000 veterans showed up in solidarity, the official stance changed. President Obama’s administration got the Army Corps to change its tune and deny the easement over Lake Oahe, meaning the DAPL will not go through Standing Rock, at least not until the Trump Administration takes office.
While their fight may not be over, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did flip the script in 2016 and was even named FTB’s Person of the Year. (JCM)
Indigenous Issues in Canada
Meanwhile in Canada, indigenous issues did make their way a bit more to the forefront in 2016. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women finally got underway September 1st.
While long overdue, the Inquiry will be independent of the Federal Government and has a budget of $53.86 million to be spent over two years. While overall optimistic, some in Canada’s First Nations communities are concerned that the scope of the inquiry is too broad, making it easy to not investigate police forces and specific cases.
Quebec is considering its own inquiry. It’s needed, especially when you consider that the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) treated accusations that its officers were assaulting native women in Val d’Or by going after Radio-Canada and its journalists for reporting on the story and no one else.
Meanwhile, conditions in many First Nations communities continued to deteriorate. An indigenous police force in Ontario even recommended its own disbanding for lack of proper funding. (JCM)
The provincial government keeps slowly but steadily dropping in the polls. According to a Léger-Le Devoir poll conducted in November, the Liberals hit their lowest approval rating since the 2012 crisis. With only 31% of the intended vote, they are now barely 1% ahead of the PQ.
The fact that they did reach a budgetary surplus as a result doesn’t seem to have calmed the popular discontent. The shadow of past corruption scandals also remains.
Couillard assured the public that none of the scandals happened under his watch and that his administration is fully committed to fighting corruption. This commitment was, however, brought into question by a recent report which accuses the government of lagging behind on the Charbonneau recommendations.
In any case, the party was left in turmoil. It wasn’t long before another of its prominent figures left. Bernard Drainville, champion of the infamous Charte des valeurs, but also a major architect of the party’s policies and democratic reforms, decided it was time to call it quits. In a slightly surreal move, he announced that he was retiring from politics to co-animate Éric Duhaime’s notoriously salacious radio show.
Those who had hoped that his departure would help the PQ move toward a better relationship with minorities and immigrants were disillusioned by the conclusion of the leadership race. Veteran Jean-François Lisée and his divisive views on immigration won by a landslide, while the favorite, Alexandre Cloutier was left in the dust with Martine Ouellet and Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon.
However, let’s not forget that Quebec’s political scene is not limited to the two major parties. In fact, a new player is preparing to enter it before the next election. FTB learned that a provincial NDP is in the works, hoping to provide the voters with a progressive option that doesn’t aim for Quebec’s independence. (MD)
Rape culture neither started nor ended in 2016, but it did seem to find its way to our newsfeed frighteningly often.
First came the disappointing conclusion of the Gomeshi trial in May. The fact that a celebrity with so much airtime on the CBC and elsewhere had been sexually harassing his colleague for years and committing multiple sexual assaults while his entourage and superiors turned a blind eye was outraging enough on its own. The fact that four counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking pretty much ended with a slap on the wrist from the court was worse. It made it very hard to keep pretending that our institutions and our society were not rigged to protect aggressors and silence victims.
Barely a month later, as if to demonstrate the scale of the problem, there was the Brock Turner case. Turner, a 20 year old student athlete at Stanford and a perfect mix of white, male and class privilege, was standing trial for raping a young woman on campus. Caught in the act by other students, he was found guilty. This could have landed him in prison for more than a decade, but he got six months in a county jail (he only served three).
A horrible event brought the discussion about rape culture a lot closer to home for many Quebecers in the fall. Multiple attackers entered the dorms of Université Laval and assaulted several students during one night in October. This sparked a wave of compassion and awareness with province-wide protests.
During a solidarity vigil in Quebec city, a young student named Alice Paquet revealed that she was raped by Liberal MNA Gerry Sklavounos back in 2012. Despite an onslaught of victim blaming and skepticism, Paquet decided to finally press charges, and her lawsuit is now in front of the Directeur des Poursuites Criminelles et Pénales. The latter will decide if the case goes to court. (MD)
US Presidential Election
For most of the year, politicos everywhere, including here in Canada, were glued to what was transpiring in the US Presidential Election. And for good reason, it was an interesting one, to say the least.
First there was the hope of some real and unexpected change in the form of the political revolution Bernie Sanders was promising. The upstart Vermont senator managed to go from basically nothing to winning 23 states in the Primaries and even got to meet with the Pope, but that wasn’t enough to beat the largest political machine out there and the Democratic Party establishment’s chosen candidate Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump, another upstart candidate, though one of the secretly pro-corporate and openly far-right variety, easily clinched the Republican nomination. With the exception of a bit of plagiarism on opening night and the whole Ted Cruz non-endorsement incident, the GOP Convention was quite unified behind Trump.
The Democratic National Convention was a completely different story. Sanders delegates booed speakers endorsing Clinton and connected to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and even left the room in protest when Clinton officially won the nomination.
The ensuing General Election campaign went back and forth for a few months with each candidate having their ups and downs. Clinton’s health rumours and Wikileaks revelations and Trump’s…well, his being Donald Trump.
Well, on Election Day, the unthinkable happened. The ideal “pied piper candidate” the Democrats had sought to elevate, because he would be so easy to beat, ended up beating their “inevitable” future President.
The bogeyman came out from under the bed and was elected to office. The joke went from funny to scary. Failed casino owner and third-rate reality star Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote and became President Elect of the United States.
As Trump started building his brand new bubble filled with climate change deniers, corporate execs and white supremacists, the fight against him in the streets started and shows no signs of stopping in 2017. The real question is now: will the Democrats change gear and become a progressive alternative or stay the establishment course that led them to defeat at the hands of an orange carnival barker? (JCM)
At least Montreal didn’t spend 2016 electing a frequently cartoonish populist who doesn’t listen to experts. We had already done that back in 2013.
This was the year, though, that our Mayor, Denis Coderre, really started to shine. And by shine I mean make Montreal nationally and even globally famous for some really bad decisions and ideas.
2015 ended with the Mayor dumping untreated sewage right into the river. With that out of the way, 2016 was going to be the year where we planned for our big 375th Anniversary in 2017.
Coderre’s focus was squarely somewhere else in the last half of the year, though. After a 55-year-old woman was killed by a dog in June, Coderre tabled rather extreme Breed-Specific Legislation aimed at pit bulls, despite no initial proof that a pit bull was the culprit (and the later revelation that it absolutely wasn’t).
There were protests and even international condemnation, including that of celebrities like Cyndi Lauper. Coderre would hear none of it, though, even ordering the mic cut on an citizen during a City Council meeting.
When the so-called Pit Bull Ban, officially the Montreal Animal Control Bylaw, became law in September, the proverbial other shoe dropped. People started picking up on some of the other aspects of it, in particular the fines and fees and the fact that it covered other breeds of dog and cats, too.
The SPCA got a temporary injunction on the “dangerous breeds” aspects of the law in early October which was overturned on appeal in December. The bylaw comes into full effect March 31, 2017, at which point the SPCA will no longer deal with stray dogs or accept owner surrenders.
In September, another project met with a legal obstacle. Turns out fines Société de transport de Montréal (STM) security officers were handing out constituted a human rights violation.
While the STM will be appealing the Montreal Municipal Court decision, for now at least, they’re not supposed to be sending out squads of transit cops acting as glorified revenue generators. In practice, though, we’ve heard reports they’re still doing it.
What was really surprising was that the SPVM got warrants for this surveillance. What was not surprising at all is how high this probably went. Police Chief Philippe Pichet must have known, and he was handpicked by Mayor Coderre a few years prior.
2016 continued the sad tradition of police murdering innocent people of colour for no good reason and getting away with it (for the most part). The Black Lives Matter movement also continued to speak out against these killings.
There were two such murders in early July very close together, to the point where it was possible to confuse notification of one with the other. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile died at the hands of police in different cities in different states within 24 hours of each other.
In Dallas, Texas, a lone sniper, not part of the peaceful protest, decided to murder nine police officers, which, of course, became a national tragedy and an excuse for the right wing to incorrectly attack BLM.
In September, following the police murder of Keith Lamont Scott, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina erupted. There were days of protest and the governor declared a state of emergency on the second night.
There is sadly no sign that any of this will change in 2017, especially given the positions of the incoming administration on race and police. (JCM)
Sadly, this year was marked by the continuing conflict in Syria. Dictator Bashar al-Assad has again been accused of deliberately targeting civilians. The carnage in Aleppo reached new heights as the regime’s forces renewed their assault, driving residents to send their goodbyes over social media.
Local groups have been fighting the rising terrorist factions in Syria, namely the now famous Kurd “women’s protection unit”, also known as YPJ. However, despite their important role, their status with the international community is on shaky ground. One YPJ fighter is currently detained in Denmark under terrorism charges. (MD)
So that’s our look back at 2016 in the news. Here’s hoping for overall more uplifting stories in 2017!
Panelists Ethan Cox, Josh Davidson and Jerry Gabriel discuss student tribunals at Concordia, the US Primary Season and Justin Trudeau’s statement that pipelines will pay for green energy. Plus the Community Calendar and Predictions!
Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Production Assistant: Enzo Sabbagha