Visitors and Guests: A Canadian Hey Rube

While I’ve been gone in the United States I have been missing out on an extraordinary incident in Canada that involves many of the things I have been blogging about, and want to blog about going forward. Terrible timing on my part.

As I understand it, Coastal GasLink has obtained legal permits to construct a pipeline in British Columbia. It claims to have the legal right to build that pipeline in accordance with that permit. It has entered into agreements with various parties, including 5 out of 6 Wet’suwet’en  Chief’s and Councils of First Nations that it claims are affected by the pipeline. Yet some Wet’suwet’en, led by Hereditary, or Traditional leaders, object to it. So the Wet’suwet’en people themselves are divided about it. Some of them have tried to stop the development by means of peaceful protest and blockades.

Meanwhile across the country, other First Nations and allies have objected to the development in support of the Wet’suwet’en people and have even blockaded railway lines in other parts of the country. This has resulted in serious hardship to many people in Canada who depend on the railway to deliver supplies to them. At the same time, many businesses and their employees are unable to carry on their businesses or occupations as a result of the blockades, which they say are contrary to law. The say everyone must obey the law. That is what the rule of law means. Everyone must respect the law. After all Canada claims to be a country of laws.

The dispute has generated startling heat from people far from the melee. I think that is because the case involves many issues. And many of those issues are far from resolved and far from simple. It is a genuine Canadian ‘Hey Rube.’

Many are asking who are these Wet’suwet’en and why are they doing these things to us?  Why don’t they obey the law? Don’t they realize the rule of law is the basis of our society? They themselves are divided so how can the rest of us come to an agreement with them, for they are a divided people. Why don’t they get over what happened centuries ago? We all suffered injustice so why don’t they get over it? How can they hold up development that will benefit the entire country and none more so than their own poor communities? Why doesn’t the federal government led by that milksop Justin Trudeau not just enforce the law? Isn’t it really that simple?

I hope to comment on all of these issues and few others besides. I hope in that way to throw some light on the issues.

There are some confusing issues here. 5 out of 6 Wet’suwet’en First Nations have signed “benefit agreements” with Coastal GasLink, the developers of the pipeline. Is that not good enough? Who speaks for the Wet’suwet’en?

To begin with, like other Indigenous groups in Canada, the Wet’suwet’en, like many Indigenous groups in Canada, are governed by both a traditional governance system and elected Chiefs and Councils. That is not as crazy as it may sound to some. Remember, in Canada we traditionally have 3 levels of government: the national government of Canada, the provincial government in which we reside, like Manitoba in my case. As well, we have municipal governments such as the City of Steinbach or village of Plum Coulee, depending on where we live.

As if that is not enough, now, in some cases, we have to add 2 more additional levels of “government.”  First, there is the band Chief and Council system, that was created by federal legislation– the Indian Act.  Although I intend to comment on many features of this law, I just want to point out at this time that this statute was created by the federal government of Canada, more than 100 years ago. It imposed a law on the First Nations of Canada without their consent. They had no input to its formation. In addition many First Nations have traditional or hereditary chiefs who govern in accordance with traditional laws of aboriginal people in those territories not governed by a Chief and Council under the Indian Act. Yes its confusing.

The first question is what gave Canada the right to do that? Then some of the Indigenous people have their own traditional (often but not always hereditary) chiefs.

After all we must all remember that immigrants from Europe (many were invaders from Europe) came to a country that was not empty. Many Indigenous people lived here and they had their own civilizations and even, laws. Many of us try hard to forget that. But this is an uncomfortable fact and it must be acknowledged. The Europeans were a bit like a guest in someone else’s house. Do the guests have the right to take over and impose their system on those who live there? This actually happened to an uncle of mine. A cousin of his visited him in his home in Vancouver for a few weeks and one day my uncle came home from work and found his cousin had torn down a wall in my uncle’s house and was building an addition to the house for himself. I kid you not. It happened. My uncle was not very happy about it, but what could he do?  How would you feel if this happened to you? Perhaps this is just plain Canadian.

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