Members of the Gitxsan Nation resurrect their blockade of the main CN rail line in New Hazelton Feb. 24. The supporters of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposing the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their territory dismantled a previous blockade Feb. 13. (Randall Shoop photo)

LETTER: Misconceptions around pipeline blockades

To the editor:

There are some misperceptions concerning the Indigenous blockades of the railways across Canada in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

It starts with Canada’s apartheid system of reservations as controlled by the federal government by way of the 1876 Indian Act.

The band councils have jurisdiction over only the reserves and not the original native territories.

The reserves are minuscule fragments of what comprised the original First Nations’ territories.

In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada essentially ruled in the Delgamuukw case that land title had not been given up for unceded territories, most of which is in British Columbia.

The band councils do not have effective jurisdiction of these unceded territories as the hereditary chiefs have never ceded their original territories, giving them the legal right to protest on and for their territories.

It is most fitting how most blockades are on railway lines. Most reserves in B.C. have lost significant territory or relocation due to the governments of the day illegally taking over reservation land (as protected by law as far back as the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and as recently as the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights, accepted by Canada in 1992) and using them for railway right-of-ways.

Across the prairies, with the desire of the federal government to control these lands and ethnically cleanse it of Indigenous peoples, immense grants of land were made to the Hudson’s Bay Company with much of that land allotted for railways.

For the writer who wanted to have the Indigenous population indemnify the losses to the railways and businesses because of the current blockades (“Pipeline protests hamper negotiations,” Wednesday, Feb. 21), he needs to consider that perhaps first Canada should indemnify the Indigenous peoples at fair market value for their stolen territories.

Three books I can recommend on the topic that provide valuable historical analysis: Making Native Space by Cole Harris (UBC Press, 2002); Contact and Conflict by Robin Fisher (UBC Press, 1992); and Clearing the Plains by James Daschuk (U. of Regina Press, 2013).

All are highly informative and well worth reading.

Jim Miles



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