Editorial: First Nations communities need to figure out who’s in charge

What a mess.

How else to describe the situation near Houston involving a dispute between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose construction of a natural gas pipeline through their traditional territory that has been approved by their elected band council and the other 19 native communities along the pipeline route. Fourteen pipeline protesters were arrested Monday by the RCMP for blocking access to an area within the Wet’suwet’en territory where Coastal GasLink wants to build the pipeline that will move gas to LNG Canada’s $40-billion gas export facility in Kitimat.

The dispute raises serious questions about who actually represents Indigenous communities — unelected hereditary chiefs or elected band councils — particularly when it comes to signing agreements with companies and non-native governments.

Coastal GasLink spent years carefully and respectfully explaining the project to First Nations along the pipeline route, including negotiating deals worth more than $600 million in employment and community benefits for the bands for allowing the pipeline to cross their lands.

The LNG project — the largest private investment in B.C. history backed by the federal and provincial governments — is worth an estimated $23 billion in taxes and fees to government over the next two decades.

So how is it that at the eleventh hour, a minority of hereditary chiefs from one nation can claim a veto over such an important project? Is that fair or reasonable?

While most Canadians would likely say no, the courts have in fact long recognized hereditary chiefs’ jurisdiction to make decision about their traditional territories. The Delgamuukw and Tsilhqot’in decisions clearly establish that Aboriginal title exists in B.C. and that non-native governments must acquire informed consent from native communities before approving activities within their territories.

However, none of that likely means that any one group, even hereditary chiefs, holds a veto over projects — especially complex ones crossing multiple …read more

Source:: Vancouver Sun

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