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Wet’suwet’en closer to recognition of title on their territory

The Wet’suwet’en Nation’s long struggle has taken another small step towards taking back control over what happens within their territory.

The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with both the B.C. government and the Canadian government that establishes a way forward for negotiations on legal recognition of their title to 22,000 square kilometres of traditional territory.

Unfortunately, some people are trying to stand in the way of this. Canada’s electoral systems are less than adequate for its highly educated population. For example, John Rustad from the Nechako Lakes electoral district was voted in during the B.C. 2017 provincial election with 54.39 per cent of the votes cast. This does not mean that 54.39 per cent of the registered voters support his leadership. In fact, there were 16,635 registered voters in that district, but only 59.06 per cent exercised their right to vote. At the end of the day, only 31.9 per cent of the registered voters supported him. He has no right to make an assumption that the Wet’suwet’en MOU with Canada and B.C. is bad for its members, both, as an outsider or as a disgruntled opposition MLA.

There are other problems that impact land decisions. Public opinion is one of them. Canada’s citizens are highly educated, but they can also be so ignorant to Aboriginal land disputes.

There is a dispute within the Wet’suwet’en Nation as well. It is not for me to judge who is right or who is wrong. This is also true for anyone who has no legal rights to the land and resources within the unceded land and the territory of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

In a letter to the elected Chiefs and Council, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs outline that this memorandum is not entirely a new draft. It is based on the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Delgamuukw\Gisday’wa. Prior to this case, work was started in 1977 in preparation for the Comprehensive Claims Policy.

What needs to change

I am a strong proponent of proportional representation because the first-past-the-post election model does not allow for the progress of on-going land claim discussions. It is a stop and restart process as new parties come in.

Canada’s education system is also flawed in that it does not address the true profile of the Indigenous people of its land. As a result, most Canadians’ knowledge of the background and history of our Indigenous people has been frozen in the days of Sir John A. Macdonald, who was a member of the Grand Orange Lodge of Canada.

In the film, “Invasion,” which explains the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s actions to protect their land, Freda Huson, an Unist’ot’en spokesperson stated, “And quit making legislation and policies to make us look like criminals when we’re just trying to protect what is ours.”

Freda also refers to “since time immemorial.” Since time immemorial, what does that mean exactly? For me it could be the moment politicians decided that only they knew what was best for the “Indians.” The English definition is “time out of mind.” The Indigenous people use this definition to state that they have used the land long before colonial law came into being in Canada.

In the midst of a gathering media storm following the official signing of the Wet’suwet’en MOU, Canada suffered a major tragedy. A young woman lost her life when a Canadian Snowbird plane crashed. Indigenous people gathered near the accident scene to pay tribute to the loss of a human life. The irony in this is that she was a member of Canada’s National Defence, normally the enemy. It symbolizes hope that if in times of crisis we can work together, we should also be able to do so in other times.

Nita Grass is a Board member of the Council of Canadians.