What you need to know about Delgamuukw vs. British Columbia

The Delgamuuk Supreme Court decision has been a main point of interest during the contentious RCMP raid of Wet’suwet’en lands during the winters of 2019 and 2020 for the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline project.

While B.C. premier John Horgan has said that the project garnered necessary support through permits and Wet’suwet’en leaders, the project only received approval from elected band councils – who are granted authority and funding through the colonial Indian Act – not the traditional Wet’suwet’en leaders. According to University of British Columbia professors, “The plaintiffs in the landmark Delgamuukw case before the Supreme Court were the hereditary chiefs, not the band councils. The court accepted detailed evidence of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary governance system and confirmed that the Wet’suwet’en never surrendered title to their ancestral lands.”

The Dinï ze’ and Ts’akë ze’ (Hereditary Chiefs) have called for a work stoppage on the Coastal GasLink project, which would force its way through their territory and turn pristine forests and salmon streams into a fossil fuel corridor. Coastal GasLink already bulldozed through Wet’suwet’en territories last year, destroying archaeological sites and occupying their land with industrial man-camps. If Coastal GasLink were to be built, it would lock in decades of fossil fuel extraction at a time when scientists are warning of imminent climate change catastrophe unless all countries rapidly scale down production of fossil fuels.

Hereditary Chiefs representing all of the five clans of the Wet’suwet’en unanimously supported a legal action, which seeks a Judicial Review of a project extension for the Coastal Gas Link pipeline, granted by the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office last October. The legal action argues that B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office failed to properly assess the Coastal Gas Link project’s potential harms, including the risk of increased gender-based violence caused by transient pipeline workers and industrial camps, in accordance with the findings and calls to action of the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. This is based on the Inquiry’s final report of June 2019 which found that resource extraction is linked to spikes in violence against Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirited people, and called on governments to conduct a gender-based harms analysis prior to approving projects.

Two Wet’suwet’en Houses launched a second legal challenge, asking the Federal Court to declare that Canada has a constitutional duty to keep the country’s greenhouse gas emissions well within the Paris Agreement limit of 2C above pre-industrial levels. If successful, the lawsuit could lead to far-reaching changes to Canada’s environmental legislation. It would enable the federal cabinet to cancel approvals previously given to fossil fuel projects such as Coastal Gas Link, liquefied natural gas terminals, and others.

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