Premier Horgan and Prime Minister Trudeau:
On behalf of the members of the Teaching Support Staff Union’s (TSSU) Solidarity and Social Justice Committee, we write to express condemnation of your governments’ attack on Indigenous sovereignty and your own legislation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in regards to the Unist’ot’en camp on Wet’suwet’en territory.
As an organisation dedicated to upholding fairness and rights, we see your (in)actions on this matter as a violation of not Canadian and Wet’suwet’en law, but all of the statements you have made regarding the building of equality for Indigenous communities and commitments to reconciliation. Furthermore, Premier Horgan, your (in)actions on this matter are in direct violation of your words put forward regarding the implementation of the UNDRIP through Bill 41. Similar to other commissions, reports, and legislative attempts, the failure of this initiative is being enacted through your collusion with industries like Coastal GasLink and the RCMP. The pushing through of this pipeline through occupied territories without consent, despite your reconciliatory statements, destroy trust and undermine the hard work of Indigenous communities and individuals who have been committed to this work and change.
Premier Horgan’s claim that the government’s actions were in accordance with, and in protection of, Canadian law is foundationally wrong. As plaintiffs in the landmark Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa proceeding, the Supreme Court of Canada held that Wet’suwet’en title to lands has never been extinguished. Canadian courts have subsequently confirmed that governments and companies must seek the consent of Indigenous titleholders before proceeding with the development of traditional territories. The Province has undermined the Hereditary Chiefs’ authority throughout this entire project by funding and supporting new entities, and consulting those who lack jurisdiction over these territories. Furthermore, the consultation process undertaken by Coastal GasLink has not considered the legitimacy of the power held by hereditary Chiefs, choosing only to consider the voices of elected Chiefs who are part of an imposed government system. This is in violation of the Indian Act, which clearly states that elected Chiefs have jurisdiction only over reserve lands, while hereditary Chiefs have jurisdiction over and stewardship of the traditional territory. Thereby, the rights of the five hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nations include the right to use, manage, possess land, and to decide how the land will be used.
Moreover, these (in)actions go against both the BC Provincial and Federal Governments’ commitments to address climate change. It is part of a recently-approved $40 billion fracked gas project LNG Canada that is the single largest private sector investment in Canadian history. The NDP provincial government announced tax breaks for this liquefied natural gas (LNG) project even though the biggest driver of climate change in the province over the coming decades will be from the LNG industry. All the Wet’suwet’en Clans have rejected the Coastal GasLink pipeline due to the catastrophic and irreversible impact of fracking on waterways, land, food systems, and cultural practices. According to Freda Huson, Unist’ot’en Hereditary Spokesperson, “The land is not separate from us. The land sustains us. And if we don’t take care of her, she won’t be able to sustain us, and we as a generation of people will die.”
Coastal GasLink’s use of the Canadian legal system and the RCMP against Indigenous peoples is counter to the narrative of reconciliation your governments are using, as well as the UNDRIP, of which Canada is a signatory. In fact, the actions of the Wet’suwet’en to protect their territory from the environmental impacts of this project and their defense of the rights are more productive towards meeting the stated goals of the governments. Their direct actions in standing against the creation of pipelines that support fracking and environmental harm across BC shows a far-reaching recognition of the immediate actions that need to be taken to meet climate change goals made by Canadian governments and international accords.
The UNDRIP clearly protects Indigenous right to self-determination and occupation of lands through Articles 8 and 10 that outline state responsibility to protecting sovereignty regarding land. Article 10 specifically states: “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned.” According to Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, addressed the 17th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues describing that criminalization surrounding land occupation and protest against the government has become an increasingly common tool against Indigenous peoples, stating:
“The rapid expansion of development projects on indigenous lands without their consent is driving a global crisis. These attacks – whether physical or legal – are an attempt to silence Indigenous Peoples voicing their opposition to projects that threaten their livelihoods and cultures.”
Another primary intersection of violence is that of consent regarding physical bodies and the land, particularly around natural resource extraction. It is particularly alarming following the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Inquiry that industrial work camps bring harm and inequality that is being disregarded at Unist’ot’en and across the country. Many studies, such as that put forward by Amnesty International show a direct correlation between increased violence and remote industry camps, which produce an influx of temporary workers – a “shadow population” of mostly young men whose presence contributes to the vulnerability of Indigenous women and strains social services (https://www.amnesty.ca/outofsight). Given the high rates of individuals experiencing increased rates of drug- and alcohol-related offences, sexual offences, domestic violence, and gang violence, as well as sex-industry activities, this needs to be addressed through investigation, standards, and accountability of resource companies and projects. In response to the existing and impending impacts on Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA peoples through construction of the projects like the Coastal GasLink pipeline, your governments must take immediate action on eliminating physical, emotional, and structural violence as a result of remote labour camps.
We call on the Provincial and Federal Governments of Canada to respect the rights, jurisdiction and laws of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and peoples on their unceded territories, as upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada and their own communities. This includes the removal of militarized RCMP officers who are used by the colonial state to protect resource extraction projects and threaten Indigenous sovereignty. Further, they must create legislation that outlines meaningful consultation and consent processes that incorporate both elected and hereditary Chiefs’ perspectives. Until then, the Provincial and Federal Government must revoke the permits for this project until standards of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent under the UNDRIP are met.
Solidarity & Social Justice Committee
Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU)