RAVEN DeBriefs are conversations between Indigenous thinkers, legal experts, organizers and community leaders exploring the shifting legal landscape upon which moments of crisis — and opportunity — are built.
Season One explores the rise of Wet’suwet’en solidarity movements — and opposition — across the country and around the world, and gives important context to the struggle and to the legal challenges being backed by RAVEN’s unique crowdfunded justice model.
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Settler governments are breaking international law, not Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, say 200 lawyers, legal scholars
Whose “rule of law” is being enforced by Canada in the Wet’suwet’en struggle? “Think about everything that First Nations people have survived in this country: the taking of our land, the taking of our children, residential schools, the current criminal justice system,” as the late Mohawk legal scholar Patricia Monture-Angus wrote. “How was all of this delivered? The answer is simple: through the law.”
Stop Using ‘the rule of law’ as a weapon against Indigenous Peoples
This article outlines the historic use of the ‘rule of law’ by the colonial Canadian and British governments against Indigenous peoples of Canada as a way to ‘renege on their treaty obligations’. This rule is still being enforced today to justify ignoring the laws of the Wet’suwet’en Government and disrupt protests that call attention to the Federal Governments’ continued oppression of Indigenous people.
“Until Canadians and our governments start seeing the rule of law through the lens of colonialism and recognize the lopsided, inequitable and hypocritical ways in which it has been deployed, there will be no justice for Indigenous peoples and no peace for Canadian’s colonial institutions” — Corey Shefman, lawyer at Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP, representing Indigenous peoples, persons and organizations
Wet’suwet’en Are More United Than Pipeline Backers Want You To Think
When we talk about ‘rule of law’, what law are we talking about? Learn more about the nuanced system of Indigenous governance in the context of #WetsuwetenStrong. The media has portrayed an oversimplification of the underpinnings and correlation of decisions made by both the Wet’suwet’en’s hereditary chiefs and the five Wet’suwet’en elected band chiefs in regards to the Coastal GasLink Pipeline. This over-simplification is purposefully constructed to undermine public support for the Wet’suwet’en people and Indigenous governance systems.
“Reconciliation requires transitioning from the colonial system of government-imposed on First Nations through the Indian Act, to systems of Indigenous governance,” and that it’s up to each nation to clarify the roles of the two systems.” — Jody Wilson-Raybould, Independent MP for the British Columbia riding of Vancouver Granville.
The Wet’suwet’en, Aboriginal Title, and the Rule of Law: An Explainer
What’s the difference between the traditional Indigenous governance systems and the elected Chiefs and Councils system? Which lands are each system responsible for making decisions about? Learn this important distinction: the provincial government has no legal right to occupy Indigenous lands or to grant rights to those lands to individuals or companies.
“The Supreme Court recognized that the Province’s authority to issue permits for Indigenous lands, including the type of permits issued for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, is not based on established legal authority.” — Bruce McIvor, First Peoples Law
The Delgamuuk Case: Explained
Industry, Government pushed to abolish aboriginal title in Wet’suwet’en Stand-off, docs reveal
The B.C. government and corporate lobbyists representing major resource industries sought the “surrender” of First Nations land rights immediately following the Delgamuukw decision, a precedent-setting legal ruling that established Aboriginal title to unceded land.
The Delgamuukw decision — prompted by a case launched in the 1980s by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the neighbouring Gitxsan Nation — cuts to the heart of the Wet’suwet’en nation’s on-going opposition to Coastal GasLink’s plan to build a 670-kilometre fracked gas pipeline through the nation’s traditional territory to LNG export facilities in Kitimat.
“The governments have shown their main aim remains keeping powerful business interests happy and containing the power of Aboriginal rights and title, rather than moving toward a respectful relationship.” – Mowhawk policy analyst Russell Diabo
The Need for Protest
Do you agree with protests in support of the Wet’suwet’en resistance to the Coastal Gaslink project? Are you willing and able to support, whether in person or online, those who are blockading rail lines and roads, protesting on the grounds of the BC Legislature and calling ‘public attention to the tensions, disjunctures, contradictions and injustices of a colonial system of governance’? Protesters and supporters are putting themselves on the line to stand up for what they believe is right and just. This is how democracy exists and works.
“Justice and law are not the same thing. That which is legal is not necessarily just. And illegal actions can be done in the name of justice. Sometimes, change must happen through people throwing themselves against and beyond the boundaries of the law, pushing those limits beyond what is legal towards what they believe is just. That process will be discomfiting and disruptive. So be it.” – David Moscrop, political scientist and a writer
Steps to real reconciliation for Canada
Canada is standing on a threshold and has an opportunity to take a real step forward in honouring the promises of reconciliation. Will that happen?
Bruce McIvor, lawyer, historian, and principal of First Peoples Law Corporation details his 5-step plan for preparing the ground for real reconciliation.
- Renounce Violence Against Indigenous People
- Implement UNDRIP
- Fulfill the Federal Government’s Role
- Sign Recognition Agreements
- Embrace Consent-Based Decision Making
First Peoples Law Corporation is legal counsel for Unist’ot’en.
How the Wet’suwet’en Crisis could have played out differently
Aboriginal title and Indigenous Law continue to be regarded as secondary and in opposition to Canadian Law when it needs to be treated as part of Canada’s legal traditions. The 1997 Delgamuukw decision, a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that found the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan Peoples had never surrendered their land or title, left room for industry and economic development on Indigenous land unless reasons for not doing so could be justified in court. Instead of ensuring Aboriginal Title, this loophole leaves communities tied up in costly legal battles. Supporters of the Hereditary Chiefs say that the whole situation could have played out differently had Industry and the Government been willing to spend more time in consultation and included Indigenous-led environmental assessment.
“It’s really that deeper, fundamental recognition and respect for Indigenous laws, Indigenous sovereignty, Indigenous nationhood that needs to happen. And [Wet’suwet’en] is just one example of that not happening,” – Chief Nick XEMŦOLTW̱ Claxton of Tsawout First Nation,
Settler Governments are breaking international law, not Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs
Didn’t the BC Government just sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)? Shouldn’t this have guaranteed that without the consent of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs the Coastal GasLink project wouldn’t continue to be pushed through by Government? Many say that the Wet’suwet’en land and water defenders are breaking the ‘rule of law’ they are actually “upholding Indigenous and international legal orders.”
“And so, we call on Canadian governments to respect Indigenous legal orders and the rights of Indigenous peoples enshrined in international law, norms, and standards, including UNDRIP, and honour Indigenous nations’ right to free, prior, and informed consent.
Otherwise, “reconciliation” is little more than a façade for ongoing settler colonization.” – Prof. Beverly Jacobs of the University of Windsor Faculty of Law is the former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Prof. Sylvia McAdam of the University of Windsor Faculty of Law is a founding member of Idle No More Alex Neve is the secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada. Harsha Walia is the executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.
Wet’suwet’en isn’t just about a pipeline but keeping Indigenous women safe
Evidence outlines that the establishment of ‘man camps’, temporary housing for workers of industrial projects, on or near indigenous territories results in increased violence against Indigenous women and children. The resistance to the building of the pipeline concerns itself with the safety of people, communities, culture, and the environment.
“People want jobs at the expense of our human rights,” said Greyeyes. “I’m trying to tell them this isn’t just about a pipeline; it’s about safety. We all have a right to feel safe in our communities. Period.” – Connie Greyeyes, a Cree woman who works closely with the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG).
Indigenous Law Experts weigh in on Wet’suwet’en protests
Without a clear structure of how the layers of governance work together there is no simple path forwards. Canada and the BC Provincial Governments continue to deny Aboriginal title, there are missing pieces in how traditional leadership coexists with Band Council decisions and calls for Canadian ‘rule of law’ to be followed.
A true government to government structure needs to be developed in BC as it has in other parts of Canada such as the Northwest Territories.
“Now we have a situation in B.C., where you have the continued denial [of Aboriginal title] which has given rise to this conflict. The government has known for quite a few years now that they never received consent of the Wet’suwet’en and now they’re trying to advance this project, and it sort of begs the question regarding the intentions of the crown to act honourably with respect to the implementation of Aboriginal title.” – Darwin Hanna, founding partner of Callison & Hanna and a lawyer whose practice focuses on land claims, self-government and business law.
We Are the Stronghold is an important gathering of good minds across the country to raise awareness for the actions happening on Wet’suwet’en territory. #WeAreTheStronghold are working with RAVEN to raise funds for the hereditary chiefs’ legal actions to defend their rights and title from unwanted industrial activity, and to hold the governments of Canada accountable to climate commitments for future generations.
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Tickets and to donate: https://fundraise.raventrust.com/wearethestronghold