Important Distinctions: Hereditary Chiefs & Band Councils

If you have been following media coverage and political pundits on the Wet’suwet’en resistance to the Coastal GasLink pipeline construction, you have probably heard the popular divide and conquer framing of hereditary leaders vs. elected band council members given their opposing views on the pipeline project. What the media has failed to unpack are critical historical understandings that contextualize hereditary governance and its importance in the conflict over whether Coastal GasLink has the right to construct their fracked gas pipeline.

Band councils were erected by the Indian Act in the late 1800s as a mechanism to erase Indigenous law and governance. However, Wet’suwet’en traditional governance and hereditary leaders were officially recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997. Additionally, Wet’suwet’en territory was never ceded by treaty and traditional leaders govern their unceded territory. 

Media narratives and public claims that minimize these historical facts or question the integrity of Coastal GasLink pipeline opposition because of band council buy-in, fails to understand the legal grounds of which hereditary leadership operates.

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