The late George Watts used to accuse the provincial and federal governments of “picking their Indians” — shopping around the First Nations world until individuals or a group was found that would align with the position the government wanted accepted.
It’s time for Premier John Horgan to fess up and admit that he has picked his Indians, as a way of moving one of his pet projects along.
Like the Trans Mountain pipeline project, many band governments signed on to the LNG pipeline project for a few pieces of silver and promise of jobs for their members.
Not surprising, really.
When you are a First Nation politician responsible for taking care of your people, trapped on a reserve in abject poverty under the Indian Act, after generations of oppression, and underfunded for statutory obligations by the federal government, when a corporation waves money under your nose, it’s a big temptation.
Some chiefs who signed on to the TMX project admitted they wept, knowing it was wrong, not only because of the nature of the project, but also because they were, for want of a better expression, Indian Act stooges of a colonial system.
They signed on out of desperation for money to improve the lot of their people.
When the British Columbia Treaty Process was established in the 1990s, a First Nation’s Statement of Intent included the identification of who would represent the First Nation at the treaty table.
Both the federal and provincial government accepted the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, the body representing the hereditary chiefs, as the entity with the authority to negotiate the rights and title of the Wet’suwet’en people.
Now, because the chiefs with the sacred responsibility to steward their house territories for their people are not prepared to permit infringement of those rights and title, the corporation and government found their Indians in the elected band system and Bob’s your uncle — they claim they have consent.
Horgan and his government are trying to ride two horses at the same time. They’ve accepted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, they’ve committed to reconciliation with First Nations, they’ve claimed to be committed to protect British Columbia’s priceless environments, all the while, shamelessly infringing on Aboriginal rights and title, fracking, damming, and further alienating those with whom they claim to be reconciling.
Fess up, Horgan. You can claim the LNG project and Site C are essential for the future of British Columbia — there are many knowledgeable people willing to debate you on that, but you cannot claim legitimate consent from the Wet’suwet’en.
You’ve picked your Indians and the current outrage across the country is justified.
Brian Domney was the Director of Aboriginal Education in the B.C. Ministry of Education for most of the 1990s, and spent the last seven years of his career as a Treaty/Senior Treaty Negotiator and Director of Lands and Resource Policy for the B.C. Treaty Negotiation Office in the Ministry of the Attorney General. He was the lead negotiator for British Columbia at the Wet’suwet’en Treaty Table for seven years.