What are you protesting, exactly? - The Orca
visitingPOD

What are you protesting, exactly?

Dallas Smith
SHARE

Dallas Smith: The protests and blockades obscure what should be an internal Wet’suwet’en dispute about governance, sadly co-opted by groups with their own agendas.

With Coastal GasLink, we’ve gone from “business is about to pick up” to a full-blown Battle Royal. Unfortunately this fight is now taking place on many different fronts through BC, Canada and even the world.

What’s more alarming is now there are many more combatants, and they are there for many more reasons than a natural gas pipeline.

It’s easy to forget this started as a pipeline project with agreements with 20 elected First Nation Councils, has the go-ahead from the Province and has been through the courts…but has yet to be approved five hereditary chiefs. That was the bell starting this skirmish between the provincial government, five of the hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en, and Coastal GasLink that has since turned into national debate about reconciliation, colonialism, activism, and civil disobedience.

This debate is starting to wreak havoc on reconciliation, racism, the economy, and possibly national unity.

The number of people in this debate has grown exponentially and encompasses the far reaches of the political spectrum. In my opinion, it’s being poorly moderated by the media. And every time another group takes to the streets, railways, and wherever else to support the Wet’suwet’en, it seems to morph into something different, as each group always puts THEIR own spin, demands, and expectations on this debate. Instead, it should only be between the communities of the Wet’suwet’en.

This debate is starting to wreak havoc on reconciliation, racism, the economy, and possibly national unity.

Different players have different agendas. That much has become clear with more and more unveiling of who’s behind these extreme protests. Everyone has a right to protest – that’s a given. And organizational efforts have increased at least tenfold since the days of the “war in the woods,” thanks to social media. But the line between protesting and nuisance ecoterrorism (and attempting to derail trains definitely counts as terrorism) seams to have grown blurred as well.

As someone who has a hereditary title/name, and long experience in reconciliation and the emerging role of First Nations decision-making both at the elected and hereditary chief levels, watching this dispute is both mesmerizing and nauseating. Sprinkle in what I now know about US funding (I’ve negotiated a lot), and it’s downright perplexing.

In ninth grade, I was pulled out of school to join my father, a hereditary chief, at the front line of our Nation’s roadblock of a Tsitika Valley forestry road leading to blocks of old growth slated to be clear cut by MacMillan Bloedel.

Different players have different agendas.

Our goal was to change the harvest practices in our territory. We had tremendous support from the local environmental communities, and confined our efforts to the forest service road only impeding M&B workers from their job, forcing the company to seek an injunction to have us removed. This, in turn, brought a police presence to enforce the injunction.

At the same time, we were trying to gain a hearing to have their right to harvest overturned. The protest, a little media, and the injunction got us a temporary stop to harvesting while we got our day in court. Unfortunately, we lost – but did set an important precedent: a community’s Aboriginal Title was something that had to be taken into consideration. Ironically, this helped the Delgamuukw decision become the game-changer it did.

Even though we lost, I bring this up to make the point that if you’re going to protest, you need to have an endgame or a result you’re looking for.

Most of these “protests” under the pretense of Wet’suwet’en Strong don’t seem to be working towards anything other than wreaking havoc. Blocking commuter and transport rail or bridges in the name of reconciliation, colonialism, climate change or (fill in the blank) by people who don’t know where Wet’suwet’en is – or the difference between a gas pipeline and an oil pipeline, or the difference between elected and hereditary governance.

Most of these “protests” under the pretense of Wet’suwet’en Strong don’t seem to be working towards anything other than wreaking havoc.

Many have tried to romanticize these protests, linking them to the civil rights movement lead by Dr. Martin Luther King. It’s an effort to polarize and magnify the issue, making it a more just cause that makes civil disobedience okay. Upping the ante increases exposure and the opportunity to fundraise – but forgets this all started about a natural gas pipeline with consent from every First Nation that has been asked, including the elected council of the Wet’suwet’en, and a large contingent of their own hereditary leadership and matriarchs.

Indigenous people need to be in the driver’s seat for determining what’s protected and developed in their traditional territories. Those decisions need to be informed, and based on what’s best for their community as a whole. Even further, we need to decide who makes those decisions and how we keep them informed and accountable.

The real problem is the notion that the elected council is only responsible for the reserve and people there, and the economics to pay for and manage it all – while hereditary chiefs decide development on a one-off basis without taking all the rest into consideration. It just doesn’t work. Those settlers with a guilty conscience who blindly support these actions are part of the problem too.

The real problem is the notion that the elected council is only responsible for the reserve and people, while hereditary chiefs decide development on a one-off basis without taking all the rest into consideration.

Every project has to be decided on its own merits, and how it fits or doesn’t fit with a community’s goals objectives, values, and vision. I honestly do not know how this ends. However it does, I hope this community does not make a decision because they’re forced to under the duress of poverty or the peer pressure of a small but loud segment of society. Instead, I hope they reach a decision together, as a healthy community.

That’s the only way to reach a decision that is truly Wet’suwet’en Strong – and that all sides can respect.

Dallas Smith is the President of Nanwakolas Council, a former provincial candidate and has over 20 years experience working for First Nations with government, industry and environmental groups.

SWIM ON:

SWIM ON