Opinions of the Hour

There are two kinds of Indigenous governance structures, but Canada has been listening to just one,” by Carey Newman, at CBC News.

An excellent piece, Newman elegantly explains the many facets of the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s efforts to protect their rightful lands from Coastal GasLink and the RCMP. Many proverbial onlookers have been confused over the past few days about why Coastal GasLink workers were being blocked, but Newman provides key context, and in the process, he educates his audience about Indigenous governance.

His main illumination, as you might guess from the title, is the difference between the “chief and council” system of the Indian Act, itself a product of colonialist hegemony, and the traditional hereditary systems of the various nations.

“Chieftainships, titles and responsibilities are passed down through generations,” Newman writes. “It is not beyond reproach, and in some cases it may need to be adjusted to reflect the capitalist world of today. But it is our traditional way, it has sophisticated checks and balances, and it has been in use since before Canada claimed sovereignty.”

In other words: the elected chiefs and councils from the designated pipeline-hosting lands might have cleared the construction, but the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s hereditary chiefs were mostly against it, and they never consented.

Newman goes on to explain that the land title is legally not the Queen’s, but the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s. “Without their approval,” Newman writes, referring to the approval of the nation’s hereditary chiefs, “the fact that elected band members had approved construction was essentially irrelevant.”

In the course of explaining, Newman does the work of elucidating many other key facts and truths — the difference between “reserve” and “traditional territory,” the pressure elected chiefs face to comply with the government, and how their implicitly under-duress consent has been used to construct an illusory narrative of unanimous Indigenous support.
This is just one example of articles and resources written by Indigenous authors about Indigeneity and ongoing colonialism, and I urge you to pay attention to what’s being said. The conversation is always there and always important, no matter how much or how little you seem to be seeing it in mainstream media, and we should always work on learning what we can.