Agreement with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs was either crafty or naive

Over a year ago, governments rid themselves of a political problem and passed it on to the Wet’suwet’en people of B.C.’s northern interior.

image: Globe and Mail

Governments had to “do something” when protestors in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs blocked railways and shut down freight and passenger traffic for several weeks.

In Kamloops, traffic was held up at the intersection of Summit and McGill by 30 to 40 protesters on February 7, 2020, by supporters of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Bronwyn, 12 years old, told NL News:

“I just think it’s really wrong to be destroying Mother Nature with all these pipes and everything,” she said. “We were here, we were brought here and then we are destroying our world that we live in. We only have one world.”

From the perspective of colonial governments, the politics are clear. In a court of public opinion, given a choice between pipelines through indigenous territory and hereditary chiefs, the hereditary chiefs will win every time.

For elected Wet’suwet’en chiefs who agree with the pipeline, it’s not that simple.

The governments of B.C. and Canada drove a wedge through the Wet’suwet’en nation when they settled on a memorandum of agreement with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Governments excluded elected chiefs from the MOU.

You can hear the frustration in the voices of people like Maureen Luggi, an elected chief of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, one of the six band councils within the Wet’suwet’en Nation. She complained about the lack of communication with the hereditary chiefs:

“We’ve tried and tried and tried to get information with no luck. Really, things seem to have come to a standstill and myself and the other five elected chiefs and councils believe this whole process needs to be stopped immediately.

This is an agreement that regards our rights and title and we weren’t consulted on any of it and it’s still the case. We did not give our consent to the original agreement. We have no information to go on about what is being agreed to on our behalf. It’s been absolutely terrible (Globe and Mail, March 5, 2021).”

From the perspective of a member of a colonizing people, I find it hard to understand why popular opinion would sympathize with traditional, unelected chiefs. The closest parallel I can think of would be a reversal of the Magna Carta in 1215 in which the rights of the monarchy were transferred to citizens.

But that’s what our governments did. They bypassed negotiations with the elected Wet’suwet’en chiefs.

“I can tell you that any ratification of an agreement that [the hereditary chiefs] pursue will be met with objection by the elected councils,” says Luggi. “It will not happen.”

Did they governments of B.C. and Canada really think that unelected hereditary chiefs would bring the Wet’suwet’en people together? Or did they cynically hand over their political problem to the Wet’suwet’en?

Either governments were being naive in thinking that the hereditary chiefs had the necessary skills and authority in consensus building, or were they being crafty in ridding themselves of the problem.

The language of Indigenous protest infiltrators

Infiltrators of the pipeline protest intend to shut down dialogue and perpetuate the divisions between us.

image: Al Jazeera

What was once the sole grievance of hereditary chiefs is now a basket in which agitators can throw anything. They have no other agenda other than to stick it to Canadians and take great pleasure in creating an angry reaction, seeing us squirm.

The activist groups that have infiltrated the movement have high-jacked media coverage; groups such as Extinction Rebellion whose cause is climate change and the Marxist Red Braid Alliance. The Red Braid say that they stand for de-colonialism, a socialist revolution and anti-imperialism. According to their website:

“We prepare to take the power away from capitalists and colonizers by increasing the autonomous power of communities where we are, as part of the insurgent working class and Indigenous people’s movements of the world.”

As long as these agitators have the chiefs as a shield, they can run around shutting down traffic or blocking rail lines, spouting their rhetoric of colonial oppression, with little repercussion.

The goal of the infiltrators is to shut down dialogue. They do so by use of labelling opponents as “colonialists” for which there is no defence. While it’s true that North America was colonized and that much of B.C. is unceded territory, the colonialist label is meant to shut me up. It makes me a representative of something I can’t possibly defend.

What’s needed is the opposite. Rather than posturing, dialogue is needed says Abel Bosum, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees of Northern Quebec:

“The only way to bring down the barricades that separate us is by truly listening to one another. The solution can only come from the individuals that face each other across barricades or negotiating tables.”

The dispute that the Chief Bosum had with the Quebec government was over development on their land. “The Cree Nation is no longer relegated to the sidelines as just protesters or agitators. We have become a nation of deciders,” says Bosum (Globe and Mail, February 27, 2020).

Another word used that is intended to leave me dumbstruck is “privilege.” I was once told to “check my privilege” because I am a white, middle-class male. The message to me is to “Shut the F**k up,” STFU in text-speak.

Privilege has actual meaning. It is a right earned by merit. When I’m told to “check my privilege,” my supposed privilege is not a result of merit but by simply being born.

Colonialist has actual meaning and I am not one. As I argued in another column, colonialism has long since been replaced by globalism as a means of subjugation.

Reconciliation has actual meaning. It opens dialogue but the agitators want none of that with signs reading “reconciliation is dead.” They prefer to accuse and belittle.

Thank goodness the agitators were not part of the discussions between government leaders and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in Smithers, B.C. last weekend. The parties issued a joint statement saying they had reached an arrangement to implement Wet’suwet’en rights and title, pending ratification by Wet’suwet’en clan members.

Settlement of the pipeline issue is the last thing agitators want. They would prefer to silence well-meaning Canadians with labels of colonialist and let grievances fester.