With all the talk of Indigenous rights being trampled on by governments and big oil, you are probably not surprised by the blockades that have poped up, reportedly in support of the Wet’suwet’en. The problem is, the Wet’suwet’en Chiefs DO support Coastal GasLink.
“What?!?!” you say, “How can this be? I have seen Wet’suwet’en Chiefs saying they have not been consulted and do not approve”
Well, it turns out that the “Chiefs” you see on TV really aren’t Chief’s in the way you likely think they are.
It should be absolutely clear that TransCanada Pipeline (now TC) has the written support of all 20 bands along the Coastal GasLink route and has signed “beneficial agreements” with each one to share profits. That includes the five elected Wet’suwet’en Chiefs who officially represent the 2800 Wet’suwet’en people.
So who are the Chiefs that are making such a fuss?
What is a Hereditary Chief?
A Hereditary Chief does not always follow a blood line, like a British King or Queen. Becoming a “Hereditary Chief” is not a straight forward process. It may that involve proving your worth and does not become available on a fixed schedule. Not all bands even have Hereditary Chiefs.
Hereditary Chiefs are not responsible for the day to day operations of the band, generally do not speak for the band and have little authority in most cases. They are ‘cultural attachés’:
“…Hereditary Chiefs, as the name implies, are those who inherit the title and responsibilities according to the history and cultural values of their community. Their governing principles are anchored in their own cultural traditions. Hereditary chiefs carry the responsibility of ensuring the traditions, protocols, songs, dances of the community, which have been passed down for hundreds of generations, are respected and kept alive. They are caretakers of the people and the culture. SOURCE
The 1876 Indian Act introduced the Elected Chief and Council System which has communities elect their leaders. These elections are held every two years by their people so the positions expressed by the Elected Chiefs are most closely tied to the community’s actual position.
Are There Fake Hereditary Chiefs?
“Fake” carries some very negative connotations’ and is not used lightly in this article. There have been rumors floating around that some of these Chiefs, are not really Chiefs. According to research by the Globe and Mail just two days ago, one of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs claims is certainly up for debate:
…Warner Naziel – identified as a Wet’suwet’en Nation chief with the hereditary name of Smogelgem – is shown building a cabin near what is now known as Parrott Lake. It’s about a two-hour drive from a bridge in Northern British Columbia, where people opposed to the $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline project had blocked a logging road, citing Wet’suwet’en law.
Mr. Naziel, who is among the hereditary chiefs opposing the pipeline’s construction, said he and others were in the process of reoccupying a former Wet’suwet’en village site and invited supporters to join them.
…For Candice George, those remarks stung. In a Facebook post in January, Ms. George said the name Smogelgem rightfully belongs to her great-aunt, Gloria George, and that her family has ties to the area shown in the video. “They broke our Wet’suwet’en laws,” she said. “I have no respect for those who bully and steal names to gain power and territory. Gloria George is the true matriarch of the Sun House. She is Smogelgem because she is actually born to the hereditary lineage.” SOURCE
Where does this leave us?
So having signed deals, government approvals and court decisions are not enough. It seems that someone always thinks they have a veto over any large scale project.
So where does this leave us? In another nebulous mess.