Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, B.C. Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser, and Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chief Woos in Smithers yesterday (Image: Screenshot of news video).

It will be interesting to see how the Conservative Opposition in Ottawa and Alberta’s Conservative government react to yesterday’s announcement the federal and British Columbia governments have reached an accord with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation that would recognize its system of hereditary governance.

Participants said the agreement reached yesterday in Smithers, B.C., after three days of meetings among federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, B.C. Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser and Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chief Woos, Frank Alec, offers a tentative way forward toward resolving the thorny problem of land claims on unceded First Nations territory in British Columbia.

Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer (Photo: Andrew Scheer/Flickr).

It should be evident even to those of us who know little of the complexities of Crown-Indigenous relations there is plenty that can still go wrong. The details of the agreement have not yet been made public pending approval by Wet’suwet’en members, nor does the deal resolve the dispute over the $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline, the proximate cause of the blockades that have convulsed Canadian politics through most of February.

Still, with good will and good luck, it seems possible the Smithers agreement could chart a path toward eventually resolving the complex and difficult legacy left by the Crown’s failure to negotiate treaties with British Columbia’s First Nations in the late 19th Century, as happened on the Prairies.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Should that happen, history will likely bestow considerable credit on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Government for their reluctance to give in to demands by the Opposition Conservatives and the Alberta government to respond immediately to the blockades with military or paramilitary violence.

Which is why the reaction of the federal Conservative Opposition, still led by lame duck leader Andrew Scheer, and the Alberta Government, led by United Conservative Party Premier Jason Kenney, is extremely important.

So far, smelling blood, they have used the political crisis generated by the blockades to relentlessly attack Mr. Trudeau and his government. To do this, they have exploited apparent divisions within the Wet’suwet’en Nation, particularly between elected band councils and the hereditary chiefs, a topic on which most Canadians, including this blogger, are not well informed.

Former B.C. MP Nathan Cullen (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

While yesterday’s agreement seems like a hopeful sign that a way forward to peacefully resolve this tangled historical legacy can eventually be found, the deal is bound to be fragile, and the temptation for Conservatives to put their own short-term political gain ahead of the country’s good must be very strong.

The Globe and Mail quoted Nathan Cullen, the former NDP MP for the region who the newspaper said has been serving as a liaison between B.C.’s NDP Government and the hereditary chiefs, emphasizing the importance of letting the Wet’suwet’en review process play out internally this month.

It would be very tempting for mainstream Conservatives like Mr. Scheer and Mr. Kenney to crank up their attacks on the deal while it is still unresolved in hopes of putting more pressure on Mr. Trudeau.

Already extreme elements of the conservative movement have made their decision, and it is not one of good will and patriotism. Various voices on the conservative fringe were cranking up their attacks on the agreement on social media last night before the ink on it was dry.

But it’s not too late for Conservatives in Ottawa and Edmonton, who for the moment seem to be holding their fire, to do the right thing and not attempt to sabotage the deal.

We’ll see very soon, presumably, what they decide to do.

Join the Conversation


  1. I would not be surprised if the Federal Conservatives led by the hapless Scheer tried to sabotage this agreement. He probably doesn’t either realize or care history will not be very kind to him. However, one would hope the adults in the party would show some restraint. Yes, they are probably preoccupied with a leadership race, but do they really want an even bigger mess to clean up post Scheer? Sabotage could badly and unexpectedly boomerang, if the public come to the view that Trudeau is actually trying to fix things, while the Conservatives are trying to make them worse.

    I suppose its even simpler for the Alberta UCP. This is sort of a BC thing at this point and it would be wise and easy to stay out.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean the need for Conservatives to praise Trudeau or this agreement. Sometimes in a delicate situation, the best thing is to just say nothing or as little as possible and let things take their own course without getting involved.

  2. The blockade issue has given many of us in Alberta an opportunity to try and understand better the issues that Indigenous peoples grapple with. Some of us have puzzled, for example, over the apparent split between elected chiefs and hereditary chiefs over resource development on their nations. One knowledgeable Indigenous person I know explained many of First Nations challenges are rooted in the Indian Act. For example, the Act foists the “white” system of first-past-the-post elections on First Nations. This is not only alien to Indigenous traditions for choosing leadership; it can be a recipe for negative divisiveness among a community. We non-Indigenous people may not feel so comfortable with choice of leaders based on heredity or consensus, and, of course, it may be hard to organize in large communities, but that’s what many First Nations want.
    I am not particularly optimistic that the dominant society will have the patience and understanding to accept the long process that true reconciliation with our First Nations will entail. But, there will be no real resolutions if we insist on just thrashing out details and moving on as quickly as we can. This process will proceed through ambiguity and uncertainty for a long time if it is to truly reflect First Nations ambitions. We can only hope our leadership remains patient and we all continue to be open to learning more about Indigenous people.

  3. The CGL-Wet’suwet’en conflict has been as hard to understand as it is for a football referee to figure out where the ball is under a pile-on. The Cons might want to jump up and down on top of the heap (which, in football, might be penalized), and it will be a while yet to disentangle the bodies and limbs of ulteriorly motivated players—treaty First Nations across Canada with their own beefs (distinctive from FNs without treaties like the Wet’suwet’en) environmentalists, electoral reformers, gas proponents, rail workers and, of course, politicians playing games instead of allowing the relevant ministers of the Crown to do what they should have done right from the starting whistle.

    None of this would have happened if the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs hadn’t cited the law, the Constitution and numerous SCoC decisions when the other claimant to their unceded traditional territory, the Crown, ignored the highest law and highest court of the land. The Wet’suwet’en Nation is owed a huge thank-you from all Canadians: whether most citizens know it, or have been misinformed, the Wet’suwet’en have upheld the rule of law—which is probably why the Crown so maliciously claimed to be upholding it itself when, in the clear light of day, it was doing the exact opposite. We don’t need to thank the Crown for obeying the law when we expect no less.

    As I type, federal minister Caroline Bennett is saying, “What is needed is a recognition of rights.” Well, d’uh. The question is why those rights—and let’s be clear: there is no question they exist, are enshrined in the Constitution such that not even the ‘notwithstanding clause’ can suspend, and as if it was needed, affirmed, reaffirmed, confirmed and reconfirmed in the SCoC—weren’t respected when the CGL pipeline was proposed to traverse territory which both the Crown and a Aboriginal nation have legitimate, competing claims. Not to put too fine a point on it, the First Nation’s claim is as sound as the Crown’s. Why that even needs to be said is the real problem under all of this. It’s not only self-interested private resource companies which imply—even declare—that these claims and rights either remain unclear or do not exist at all: the Crown tacitly condones this malicious misinforming of citizens.

    And then the Wet’suwet’en Nation said, on their own behalf, enough is enough. We owe them, once again, first for so many, many injustices they suffered under colonial and subsequent Canadian governments, and now because if the government can ignore the rule of law (and have the gall to say they are actually its champion at the same time), we are all royally screwed.

    Under the pile-on of purely political, populist, and partisan noisemakers is the basic constitutional law issue that’s beyond politics by definition. It doesn’t matter how many people like or dislike pipelines, or how many indigenous people approve of them: no popular survey or weight is relevant to the main issue. As Delgamuukw 1997 and William (“Tsilhqot’in”) 2014 SCoC decisions ruled and detailed, respectively, the sovereign claim of an Aboriginal nation without a treaty with the Crown claimant has not been extinguished by confederation or anything else, for that matter; as such, the two claimants must (not may) consult meaningfully with each other before resources can be developed in the subject territory. Aboriginal activists have to wear some of the confusion about this legal fact because of their sloganeering, specifically about “consent,” a UN concept contained in its Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which the BC government recently adopted by way of legislation; however, there is no “consent” in superiorly overriding SCoC decisions; rather there is “meaningful consultation,” the difference being as arcane as opponents of indigenous rights try to make it: this is where the inciting notion of “Indian veto” comes from and which bigots regularly cite to rile their ilk. To be sure, “meaningful consultation” refers to ordinary fairness as to the disposition of property owned by two separate parties: one may not dispose, deplete or diminish any of it without consulting with the other; if the Crown resorts to “the national interest” to do any of this, there surely must be substantive consultation as to compensation paid the other claimant, perhaps royalty sharing and, specific to Aboriginal Rights, to protecting these Rights and Aboriginal Title in a way that doesn’t impeded the eventual settlement of a treaty.

    Absolutely none of this was done, a fact known despite the possibility that such negotiations might have taken place but haven’t been revealed. The reason for that is simple: neither the Crown nor the Wet’suwet’en Nation ever met, so there can be no such document. Point final.

    The Crown bears the largest part of fault, here: it tried to substitute a private company (which cannot represent citizens of the Crown) as its proxy in this matter, and as if that weren’t enough to scuttle the whole deal, its proxy commenced to “negotiate benefit agreements” with the Crown’s own, paid agents, namely the Wet’suwet’en band council which, although elected by Wet’suwet’en members, is responsible only to the Crown’s federal Indian Act, not to its electorate—that is, as trustees of the Act, and in the pay of the Crown, it cannot represent the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s interest in its claim because of obvious conflict of interest—even if the Crown hadn’t improperly substituted a private-for-profit interest to represent us, its citizens in the matter of its own claim to the territory.

    Because there’s no simpler way of putting this, it’s easily distorted and misrepresented, and most of the public remains largely uninformed as to the basic malfeasance of our Crown representatives, especially the ministers who are charged with advising the Sovereign or her governors. Instead, especially by way of ginning from the political right which is funded by resource extraction industries, many Canadians became convinced the Wet’suwet’en protest was illegitimate instead of heroic. The pile-on by other FNs, no matter the merit of their own, distinct concerns, didn’t help: it fanned flames that got attention—a good thing—but did little to inform citizens of the real issue—a bad thing.

    The solution for this little episode was always for the Crown to stop, back up, and start over properly this time. Now that it’s done—hopefully—the much, much larger issue of historic Crown injustice, bad-faith treaties and dishonouring of them, and the settlement of treaties where there are none should now come into a better-informed view—but almost certainly it won’t.

    The law will remain the same, however, and First Nations will still be able to resort to the courts of law (and perhaps of public opinion) which in rule-of-law terms might appear for their own sakes, but is coincidentally for all our sakes. Every small step, as frustrating as it might be, is something all Canadians should celebrate.

    What would that make Jason KeKangaroo Kenney and lame-turkey Andrew Scheer?

  4. Short answer: No!
    These people have all the zeal of a boy in short pants in the candy store and none (not a whit) of the probity of former senior statesmen. They are, to a man (and woman), ignorant, reactionary, drooling thugs.

    It’s more than a little heartening to see that after only 3 days of talks there is some willingness to collaborate on an agreement.
    This after the racist goons in the BC provincial resource Ministries spent a couple years and who knows how much money pandering to the foreign owners of various petro-corps. All the while denying that the dirty Indians and environmentalist hippies had no right to get involved in these decisions.
    Also after the knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing troglodytes from the various conservative parties across the country came out of their caves to make idiotic demands on the police and the military for the last 3 weeks.

    The Gitxsan-Wet’suwet’en were right in 1984 and the Supreme Court of Canada agreed in 1997. The Wet’suwet’en have been right since then for denying access to Enbridge, as events have proven. They were right assert their authority over land use and natural resources development in 2009. All this is known and agreed to by our (white) various levels of governance.
    It was wrong for the BC Gov’t and off-shore petro-corps to sign resource development deals without FN consent. It was wrong of the Federal Gov’t to approve those deals. They all knew it. They got caught!

    What happened over the weekend shows that the First Nations are the sober, serious and law-abiding governments. We, the readers of this blog, know that our provincial and federal gov’ts are in thrall to corporations; we know these gov’ts are corrupt. Here’s just another example!

    Just to split hairs a bit; this deal does nothing to resolve “… the thorny problem of land claims on unceded First Nations territory in British Columbia.”. It does offer a framework for future development on Wet’suwet’en lands, if the provincial gov’t and industrial proponents decide to follow it. Which is seriously unlikely.
    In the unlikely event that this framework resolves industrial land use issues for the Wet’suwet’en then other FN might begin to adopt the framework. The Tsilqhot’in decision in 2014 also offered guidance for industrial land use development on FN lands, but it’s been largely ignored and even disputed in various provincial Ministry decision forums.

    Nor, as our host notes, does this weekend confab resolve the current pipeline project with CGL. The problem here, aside from a foreign petro-corp invading Wet’suwet’en lands, is the BC Gov’t having made a deal they had no authority to make.
    Now, that will be a thorny problem indeed!

  5. The War Room has a Coastal GasLink press release dated Feb. 27 with no mention of First Nations.

    They seem to be down to one article per week, $600,000 each.

    Of course, they may be using the money for those promised secret operations that they don’t want the public to FOIP.

  6. The notion of PMJT and the Liberals making material progress to not only end the blockades, but also begin the foundations towards a consultation process that will deal somewhat with the issue of unceded lands should put the CPC on notice that their endless tantrums have accomplished nothing.

    Though Andrew Scheer and the rest of his frenzied mob sought to have the blockades lifted by cracking heads and, maybe, piling up a few bodies, it looks like clear heads and calm discussions have won the day. I guess the CONs long-hoped for civil war isn’t going to happen. Better still, it’s clearer now, more than ever, that Canada dodged a bullet in the last federal election. The thought of a Prime Minister Scheer should give everyone pause to consider if the CPC should ever be allowed to govern again. No doubt that caution is being exercised by Red Tories as they are ready to shove their man, Peter MacKay to the CPC leadership. Though MacKay’s angry posturing is surprising, it’s largely meant to calm the crazies in Alberta.

    If the crazies among the CONs seek to upend this worthy agreement, Trudeau better hit the airwaves and denounce their militancy. Reason must rule the day; let the CONs foam at the mouth all they like.

  7. Perhaps this is the time to mention Rachel Maddow’s book, “Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth”. Inside the front cover, “Big Oil and Gas Versus Democracy — Winner Take All”.

  8. As each day passes by and I read about ever more idiotic kenney moves on this and other blogs, it has become increasingly clear to me that I have no real idea what the man is about. Whatever he is, he’s not normal.

    And by that, I mean what on earth is his ultimate goal? Does anyone care to hazard a guess? I don’t mean simpleton answers like he’s pro petro state and anti-abortion, and an Albertan patriot which would be horse manure beyond the pale.

    He certainly doesn’t seem to be pro-Alberta and likes to promote divisiveness among its citizens by dunning one group, public employees, over the remainder, and to kick dirt over social welfare recipients as if they weren’t even human, deserving of worse treatment than dogs. He wraps himself in the flag of approval for Albertans who voted for him, and to hell with everyone else. A leader draws together, not divides as the old platitude goes, which is nonetheless correct.

    No, normal kenney is most certainly not. He shamelessly lacks normal human empathy.

    And to cap it all, he’s an authoritarian freak. He seems quite happy to bring in unconstitutional legislation, which surely is criminal in and of itself, being a deliberate conspiracy to limit Charter Rights. If you know something is likely to be unconstitutional and to be advised by presumably competent lawyers of the fact, but to go ahead anyway strikes me as little less than treasonous to our policy of good government. I am of course referring to this business of being able to treat private places as public for the purposes of banning protest, such designation being on nothing more than his whim. It is in fact authoritarian dictatorship, and not part of the Canadian understanding of citizens’ rights. But we have no pre-emptive means of ensuring such legislation never gets to legislature. Obviously we are like a gaggle of sitting ducks before a rogue with a dozen shotguns when some delusion affects his reasoning.

    To have put in place draconian measures that have reduced employment and freedom of association, put in place an actual Propaganda Ministry War Room to shout down perceived and made-up criticism, to have a cabinet full of what really appear to be non-thinking simpletons who rubber-stamp his every whim, and then to stand around braying about this and that trying to offload responsibility to those beyond Alberta’s borders for the current and past economic troubles — all of it smacks of a plan. It must be so obtuse I cannot even imagine what it could be. Perhaps I am not criminally devious enough to even imagine what the end goal is, because the man is obviously beyond shaming to end his abject nasty paranoic actions.

    What exactly drives kenney to be such a complete idiot? Insanity?

    1. “What exactly drives Kenney to be such a complete idiot?”

      I don’t think that anybody wants to peek into the sausage factory that is Tailgunner Jason’s mind.

    2. Friends and family fire sale of Alberta assets from public parks to hospitals, condo conversion of the once-legislature. Everything sold to the lowest bidder, no offer turned down from just the right person. Should go down well with the Confederacy of Treaty Six Nations. Heck, sell off treaty lands, too. Where there’s a will to make an illegal law, there’s a way.

      Just think of all the money to be made scooping up foreclosed homes from laid-off workers at pennies on the dollar, for resale later to foreign investors. Just like 1981 all over again, but bigger and better this time.

  9. John Horgan in the B.C. legislature Monday”With respect to the Coastal GasLink Pipeline, the LNG Canada completion plant in Kitimat – all those issues are fully permitted and fully underway.” Horgan added that the construction project ” employing thousands of British Columbians, Indigenous and non-indigenous, and it’s going to be a net benefit for all of B.C. when it is completed.”

    If what I have read is correct the hereditary leaders of the Wet’suwet’en are still against the construction of the pipeline and yet it is going ahead with apparently full support of the B.C. NDP premier! So what was really accomplished over the weekend? And if John Horgan is still in favor of and pushing forward with the project, a completely provincial project, why go after conservative politicians not involved in the negotiations with the Wet’suwet’en?

    1. You make a fair point – and it’s overdue to remind ourselves that this whole fiasco can be laid entirely at Horgan’s feet.

      If he hadn’t decided to forge ahead with implementing Christy Clark’s LNG fantasy, with even more tax concessions thrown into the pot, none of this would have happened. These summaries of the extent of this folly really only scratch the surface:



      If anything, Horgan’s NDP have outdone Notley’s version in their enthusiastic adoption of soft-core climate change denial.

      The only possible gain – and it’s still tentative – is that the Wet’suwet’en may have levered this situation into completing some of the business left unfinished after the Delgamuukw decision. I wish them well.

    2. You’re a smart man Farmer Brian. It’s a little late to be expressing incredulity and ignorance.
      If you don’t already, you should know full well that Horgan (perhaps while looking the other way) and his racist bureaucracy simply ignored the Wet’suwet’en, and others, while they pursued their pie-in-the-sky industrial fantasy.
      Sound familiar – straight outta the Klien playbook.

      The Gitxsan-Wet’suwet’en have been the only law-abiding, reasonable and democratic government in that part of the world for more than a few decades now. The Socred/Liberals and now whatever the hell Horgan represents have been stealing natural resources for a long, long time.
      Again, this should sound quite familiar to you.

  10. How are the federal and provincial governments supposed to recognize hereditary governments when indigenous leaders do not know how to recognize them? Chief Dan George clearly does not know what to do with “Chief Woos” but Trudeau is going to figure it out… without Wilson-Raybould??

    Add to this that these particular hereditary chiefs do not seem very hereditary or legitimate. Frank Alec stole the title “Chief Woos” from Darlene Glaim (see the Globe and Mail story from 2019). How is it that three indigenous men dispose three women from matrilineal hereditary titles? Magically, the three female supporters of the gas pipeline are removed and replaced by three men who oppose. These men are also members of groups that receive direct funding from Tides Foundation – an environmental group funded by American petrochemical conglomerates.

    The substantive opposition to the Costal GasLink Pipeline is not Indigenous: it’s American (hegemonic energy interests who oppose Canadian-Chinese collaboration). The protests and blockades are political spectacle: “Our American Cousin” double-billed with the “Greta Tragedy”, meanwhile Honest Abe is being assassinated. Trudeau, drama obsessed as he is, has his eyes firmly on the stage but does not know what’s happening in the theatre.

    Justin’s Liberals believe they are pursuing carbon neutrality by 2050; they believe they are pursuing reconciliation; the reality is that Justin has fallen prey to bad actors in a manner that only an overindulged idealist could.

    During the October crisis of 1970 Pierre Trudeau enforced the War Measures act when Canada’s sovereignty was threatened. Justin, it seems, is not that kind of man. He doesn’t understand power because he never had to take it. “Just watch him”. Is this what democracy looks like? Government ignores the decisions of elected officials and sends representatives to make back-room dealings with hereditary charlatans? Police, courts, government turn a blind eye to terrorism (the use of violence and intimidation against civilians in support of political aims)?

    When forced to choose between Canada’s freedom or that of fringe actors, he is “checking his privilege” and choosing that of the fringe. What else to expect from a francophone Quebecois federalist who does not believe in his own people’s sovereignty?? When you take freedom for granted, I suppose it’s easy to give-up. “How dare you!”

    1. I’m going to let this comment stand, although I normally object to commenters (of the right or the left) who use the names of famous people. I’m making this exception because I am committed to permitting wide-ranging commentary, to make this point, and because the famous Pierre Laporte, Quebec’s corrupt labour minister murdered by the FLQ in October 1970, is dead. If you want to use this name again, though, you’ll need to establish to my satisfaction that you really are named Pierre Laporte, which I suppose is always possible. DJC

      1. Allowing a post from West Buffalo’s most recent phony seems sadly appropriate! I guess the $140 million dollar dark money war room re-election farce is well worth your moment of exceptionalism! I mean they do let us know what’s in store for the rest of us! Oh well! Maybe Pierre thinks I should change my name to Weibo Ludwig! Personally I think this LaPorte cosplay victim is the ghost of Ernst Zundel!

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