When Prime Minister Trudeau shared that no relationship was more important to him than the federal government’s relationship with indigenous peoples, I don’t think he assumed it was going to be easy to prioritize this relationship.
When the BC government, under the leadership of Premier John Horgan, became the first jurisdiction in Canada to enshrine the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into legislation, I also don’t think he thought giving life to these principles in practice would always be easy.
The current RCMP enforcement of court injunctions to halt a blockade that impedes the construction of the Coastal Gas Link natural gas pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory has led to a number of protests and blockades across Canada.
First, historically, I feel very lucky to live in a time in which governments are trying to work through these issues as opposed to simply enforcing a colonial system of governance. The RCMP enforcement in 1960 or 1970 or 1990 would have been, in my view, a lot more violent than it has been in 2020. In fact, in 2020, the RCMP and policing agencies across the country have been very careful (so far, successfully) in trying to avoid violence.
So many protests have unfolded unhindered, Cabinet ministers and high government officials have been active in trying to find solutions. Reconciliation in practice can be very challenging but it is alive and well.
Wet’suwet’en Hereditary chiefs challenge to the present routing of the Coastal Gas Link pipeline is especially difficult. The Hereditary chiefs have been recognized by the courts as having authority and standing in issues regarding Wet’suwet’en territory but the courts also did not decide specifically the extent and limits of this authority.
Almost all the Wet’suwet’en elected councils support the pipeline as so most of the other indigenous communities along the pipeline route. Many are hopeful for the job and economic development opportunities.
So, there’s a division of opinion between indigenous communities involved. And this is a division that people within those communities are obviously best to solve.
Those of us non-indigenous folks protesting or supporting the construction of Coastal gas link should be thoughtful and restrained, given the division in opinion among indigenous peoples and the spectre that this conflict could get worse and have even greater negative impacts.
Of course, this current conflict could lead onto a pathway towards greater consensus and cooperation. Crises can often lead to greater opportunities.
Different experts and pundits express different opinions on the validity of different points here. It can be very complex and confusing. At a very human level, though, people are in conflict. And the only way this can be solved is by working with each other.
And, in order this to work, we need to see this not as a winners and losers situations but as an “all of society” conversation where we need to really listen to each other, respect each other, and commit to being in community together. I don’t how seeing people with opposing views as enemies will practically get us anywhere productive. We will keep fighting and each “side” has enough power and weight to prevent any “winner” to emerge.
Let’s instead seize an opportunity of this moment. To get off the metaphorical battlefields and sit in talking circles and meeting rooms. To do the hard work of reconciliation in action.