Among the First Nation communities, there are Hereditary Chiefs and the “elected” chiefs.
And this institutional binary is the primary reason that the proposed natural gas pipeline issue has put Canada in a standstill spot with blockades stopping rail and road traffics across the country.
In the traditional form of First Nations governance, Hereditary chiefs are higher than elected Chiefs, especially on issues like this one, where their lands and cultures are in danger by encroaching developments.
The epicenter of the Canada-wide protests is the indigenous lands of Wet’suwet’en outside the village of Burns Lake in British Columbia.
The proposed pipeline would pass through the Wet’suwet’en lands that have not been permitted by the Hereditary Chiefs.
However, of the five Wet’suwet’en elected band chiefs, only the Hagwilget Village Council declined to sign benefits agreements with the LNG pipeline. The remaining four elected Chiefs signed the go-ahead arrangement.
It is being claimed that “based on Wet’suwet’en and Canadian law, it’s ultimately the hereditary chiefs who have jurisdiction to the territory, and they have been clear about their aim—to assert self-governance over their land and demand a nation-to-nation relationship with Canada.”
The opposing positions of two sets of Chiefs are the cause of the current situation over the Native blockades that are making headlines in Canada.
In the latest development, two Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have launched a constitutional challenge against the Trudeau government in the federal court. It seeks commitment from Ottawa that to achieve climate targets, the government must “modify or cancel” energy projects like the one under construction in BC by the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
The court challenge, in its statement, says that “Canada has a constitutional obligation to adhere to its emissions targets under the Paris Agreement.”
Coastal GasLink has a $6.6-billion pipeline project from northeast BC that would deliver natural gas to LNG Canada. The latter is building an $18-billion terminal in Kitimat, BC, to export liquefied natural gas to Asia.
Kitimat is booming with construction works, creating plenty of jobs, mainly benefitting the Native workers. A big boost to the local economy is what the expectations are amid environmental concerns, including some erosion in the traditions and cultures of the Wet’nuwet’en nations.
(Promod Puri worked as editor of the New Nation, a Native and Metis weekly newspaper from Winnipeg in the early ‘70s. he is a journalist, writer, and author of Hinduism beyond rituals, customs, and traditions.)