Wet’suwet’en First Nation hereditary chiefs have reached a deal with the RCMP to open a blockade preventing Coastal GasLink pipeline employees to do survey work in their territory, but they haven’t dropped their outright opposition to the project.
And their dispute over whether the elected Wet’suwet’en band council had the authority to sign an impact and benefits agreement on behalf of all the First Nation’s people remains an open question that highlights the complexity of Indigenous law.
Coastal GasLink’s efforts to secure agreements with all 20 elected Indigenous governments along its entire 670-kilometre right of way were heralded by Premier John Horgan as an example of getting it right when it comes to First Nations consultation.
The pipeline’s path starts near Dawson Creek in B.C.’s north east and runs to tidewater at Kitimat, terminus for the $40-billion LNG Canada development it is intended to serve.
The Wet’suwet’en opposition, however, illustrates how in many cases in British Columbia, the relations between First Nations band councils, which are creations of the federal Indian Act, and the pre-existing and historic hereditary systems of governance are still being sorted out, said an Indigenous legal scholar, Val Napoleon.
The difference, Napoleon said, is that hereditary systems are the larger, historic legal, social and economic orders that First Nations lived by that covered the entire territory of specific groups. Elected band councils have authority delegated by the federal government over activities on specific reserves.
Historically, most Indigenous people were “non-states,” Napoleon said, meaning that their authority was distributed among family, house or clan-based groups that are determined matrilineally.
Hereditary chiefs come from specific families, but don’t directly inherit positions, Napoleon said. They earn their positions, and authority, through their ability to uphold the integrity of their land and their rules for social order.
In the case of the Wet’suwet’en, its hereditary system consists of 12 houses that are organized in five different clans governing different parts of the total historic Wet’suwet’en territory.
“What we have here is a dispute over the extent of authority of a band council to make decisions beyond reserve boundaries,” Napoleon said. “And people are arguing that (the elected councillors) don’t have that authority under Wet’suwet’en law.”
“That’s the other important issue here,” Napoleon said. “Indigenous law hasn’t gone away, but it has been undermined and there are gaps …read more
Source:: Vancouver Sun – Business