As a former electoral area director, with a jurisdiction that extended over nearly 5,800 square kilometers, I have enormous empathy for the hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs.
That 20 band councils signed benefits agreements with Coastal GasLink is totally irrelevant in determining the route of a pipeline on Wet’suwet’en Nation land.
At three square kilometers the Village of Kaslo, for example, receives a grant-in-lieu of taxes from BC Hydro, even though it is wholly situated in the FortisBC service area. However, receiving those benefits does not give the village administration the right or authority to discuss the ongoing impacts of Duncan Dam operations within Area D, as those issues are under the jurisdiction of the director for Area D. So too are the issues of building the pipeline the responsibility and jurisdiction of each and every clan and house chief through whose land Coastal GasLink proposes to construct their pipeline.
Beyond Chief Justice Lamer’s Canadian Supreme Court ruling, in Delgamukuuw vs. British Columbia, that aboriginal title and rights in British Columbia have never been extinguished, the same Court, while acknowledging crown rights, ruled in Tsilhqot’in (2014) that:
“Aboriginal title confers ownership rights … not only for the present generation but for all succeeding generations … This means it cannot be alienated … in ways that would prevent future generations of the group from using and enjoying it … [including] that governments and others seeking to use the land must obtain the consent of the Aboriginal title holders.”
Where, I ask, is Canada and British Columbia’s commitment to implement “free, prior and informed consent” with First Nations (especially when the Office of the Wet’suwet’en previously offered two alternate routes), when they refuse to acknowledge that there should be a pause in Coastal GasLink construction while nation-to-nation talks occur?