Opinion: ​Indigenous civil rights blockades should be met with a new diplomacy, not violence

Image: Wet'suwet'en

Canada is at a critical crossroads. TheWet'suwet'enconflict brings us to a deciding moment in Canada, one that will shape the future of the nation. The divisive conflict is about land, Indigenous law, human rights and the nature of civil disobedience.

Many Canadians feel inconvenienced, some outraged, by protests and national blockades. Efforts to resolve the conflict have highlighted the longstanding tensions between Canadian law and Indigenous land rights.

The national support for theWet'suwet'enHereditary Chiefs includes the support of an increasing number of First Nations and non-Indigenous Canadians from coast to coast to demand the removal of the RCMP presence onWet'suwet'enterritory.

Indigenous resistance to encroachment on their own lands is being viewed as unlawful rather than as a conscientious act of civil disobedience, similar to historical figures like Rosa Parks, M.K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Peaceful demonstrations by Indigenous Peoples and allies are acts of conscientious objection to laws that need to be re-examined if we are to move to peaceful co-existence, joint resource governance and wealth management.

Indigenous protesters and allies are standing up against unjust laws by making injustice visible to a larger public.

Increasing numbers of non-Indigenous people are demonstrating their support for the hereditary chiefs across Canada. Those people have been viewed by the premier of Alberta as creating ``anarchy'', and by the leader of the Conservative Party as needing to ``check their privilege'' rather than as people of conscience engaging in the right to protest.

Civil disobedience is atime-honouredpractice: a public act to bring attention to injustice when all other legitimate means to communicate and address the issue have failed.

I am a non-Indigenous scholar whose research focuses on the impacts of colonial trauma and the internationalization of Indigenous rights. I am concerned about the way this conflict is being discussed, framed and handled by the Canadian government, mainstream media and everyday Canadians.

Canada not following UNDRIP

The landmark 1997 Supreme Court rulingDelgamuukwvs. British Columbia recognized theWet'suwet'enhereditary chiefs as the ones who affirmWet'suwet'enterritorial rights.

Therefore, the hereditary chiefs are the cultural and legal representatives of their nation. They have consistently protected their territory in the courts and on their land.

In this vein, they offered an alternative pipeline route to Coastal GasLink that the hereditary chiefs feltcould have prevented conflict. The company did not accept the alternate route because of time delays, cost and environmental issues.

Since the hereditary chiefs did not sign the agreements signed by the band councils, Coastal GasLink did not meet the standards of Articles 18 and 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which affirms that ``states shall consult and co-operate in good faith with Indigenous Peoples through their own representative institutions.''

Chief Alexander McKinnon fromNak'azdliFirst Nation, one of the elected band chiefs of the twenty band councils along the pipeline route,

told CBC that in his community threecouncillorsvoted for the pipeline and three against it.

Chief McKinnon decided to vote infavourof the agreement despite a community referendum in which 70 per cent voted against the pipeline. He said his reasons for signing included both pressure from Coastal GasLink as well as his intention to ensure his community would have a voice on environmental decisions.

Echoes of Oka

This isnot the first time Canadians have been divided by complex federal, provincial and Indigenous relations. Blockades were also set up in Oka, Quebec in 1990, as well as in Ontario and British Columbia in support of the Mohawk resistance to a golf course being built over a burial site.

The 1990 conflict caused intense frustration resulting in Quebec police storming the Mohawk barricade at Oka with teargasand concussion grenades. The attack on the Mohawk barricade resulted in a gun battle and the death of Corp. Marcel Lemay.

The 78-day-standoff ended when the Canadian army forcefully removed Mohawks and their supporters from the land.WaneekHorn-Miller, a 14-year-old Mohawk girl, was critically injured by a soldier's bayonet.

Following the extreme act of using the Canadian army against Canadian citizens, the federal government established the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) from 1991 to 1996 to improve national understanding of Indigenous issues.

A lot has happened since Oka. We must ask how farhave wecome and what have we learned.

In 1990, few Canadians were aware of the residential school policies that sparked the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2008-15), and UNDRIP had neither been signed, nor Bill 41 passed in the B.C.legislature..

As an increasing number of Canadians stand together with Indigenous peoples to support reconciliation and the rights of Indigenous Peoples, we must look at this as a civil rights movement.

A path forward

Respectful dialogue with Indigenous leadership is essential for social and political stability.

It is also necessary for the Canadian resource industry. The failure of Canada to meet the requirements of the duty to consult and the international rights standards of the United Nations has created an unstable environment for companies that are looking to invest in development on Indigenous lands.

A number oflarge companies have even withdrawn from significant Canadian resource development projects.

Should the Canadian government decide to break down the barricades as they did at Oka, they would support the claim that “reconciliation is dead,'' as recently asserted byWet'suwet'enmatriarch Molly Wickham.

Alternatively, the government can remove the RCMP presence onWet'suwet'enterritory and begin to engage in nation-to-nation dialogue as requested by the hereditary chiefs.

Canada's civil rights movement is awakening the country. Our resource-dependent nation must begin a new relationship with Indigenous Peoples: one thathonoursCanadian common law, Indigenous law and the international Indigenous rights standards our country has agreed to implement.

This article is republished fromThe Conversation. Read the original articlehere.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

Advocacy & Opinion

U.S. & International


Special Report