UPDATE 18. February 2020: As Protests supporting Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs continue House of Commons holds emergency debate over rail blockades and slam absent Trudeau over inaction (see underneath).

Indigenous land conflicts to persist unless sovereignty addressed, Wilson-Raybould says

Steadfast former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould spoke out on Crown-Indigenous relations.
75% of all Candians support the causes of the Indigenous Peoples and First Nations.

By Emerald Bensadoun - 16. February 2020

Jody Wilson-Raybould said protests like the dispute over a pipeline development in the ancestral Wet’suwet’en territory will happen again unless the Canadian government actively works towards addressing Indigenous sovereignty.

“This situation that we’re seeing in Wet’suwet’en territory, as we’ve seen in other territories around major resource development projects, are going to continue to happen until we address the fundamental underlying reality and of the inherent right of self-government of Indigenous Peoples and ensure that Indigenous Peoples can finally make their way and see themselves in our constitutional framework,” she said in an interview with Global News Ottawa Bureau Chief Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday’s episode of The West Block.

The Vancouver member of parliament said she understood the impact the railway blockades had on Canadians, but said it was both the responsibility of the RCMP as well as political leaders to come to an amicable solution.

Protesters block rails in Vaughan, Ont. in latest Wet’suwet’en solidarity demonstrations

“It’s the responsibility of all of us. We got here to this place and leaders, elected leaders need to do their jobs, and that is to lead, to de-escalate the situation,” she said.

Tensions between the government and the Wet’suwet’en Nation have been escalating since Dec. 31, when British Columbia’s Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink an expanded injunction that established an exclusion zone against protesters interfering with the construction of a $6.6-billion pipeline that is expected to carry natural gas from northeastern B.C. to a massive export plant being built near Kitimat.

If completed, the 670-kilometre pipeline would pass through the nation’s unceded territory not covered by treaty.

The project has the support of the elected band council — but not by the territory’s hereditary chiefs, which is where Wilson-Raybould said confusion comes in.

“We have the imposition of a colonial statute called the Indian Act, which has determined that First Nations groups elect leaders and that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the elected leadership in the Wet’suwet’en territory, or that they may or may not speak for the Wet’suwet’en people. But so, too, do the hereditary chiefs,” she said.

The hereditary chiefs contend that governments do not have their consent and responded by issuing the company an eviction notice in early January, asserting the company was violating their traditional laws.

The RCMP said they had delayed enforcing the injunction for weeks to seek a peaceful resolution, but without one, they had no choice but to follow the court’s orders. On Feb. 6, the situation escalated and six people were arrested at the pipeline construction site by RCMP who were trying to clear the area. Since then, dozens more protesters have been arrested.

The anger felt by protesters in Wet’suwet’en have inspired protests and demonstrations all over Canada, resulting in massive rail blockades across the country. On Thursday, VIA Rail announced it would be shutting down a majority of its train services in Canada over the blockades.

A protester carries a sign at a rail blockade on the tenth day of demonstration in Tyendinaga, near Belleville, Ont., Feb. 15, 2020.
A protester carries a sign at a rail blockade on the tenth day of demonstration in Tyendinaga, near Belleville, Ont., Feb. 15, 2020. Lars Hagberg / The Canadian Press

Wilson-Raybould, who was Canada’s first Indigenous attorney general and justice minister, said under the constitution it is up to the Indigenous Peoples who reside in Wet’suwet’en to determine what happens on their territory.

She emphasized for Indigenous Peoples to have the space to exercise their right of self-determination, self-government and the right to decide who speaks for those who reside in the Wet’suwet’en territory.

“The lack of governing institutions, as determined by Indigenous Peoples themselves, are now and will continue to impact resource development projects, will continue to impact other jurisdictions as exercised by the federal government and provincial governments until, as a country, we create the space necessarily… for Indigenous Nations to rebuild within a stronger Canada, said Wilson-Raybould.

“When we do that, when Indigenous Peoples finally see themselves and can exercise their inherent rights of self-government, the country will be the better for it.”

Wilson-Raybould, a former Liberal, sits as an independent MP after winning 30.7 per cent of the vote in last year’s federal election.

Following what was described by Wilson-Raybould as “consistent and sustained” pressure from members of the Trudeau administration to resolve criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin,  she was demoted from her position as attorney general and justice minister and dismissed from the Liberal caucus last year.

In August, a report by the federal ethics commissioner found Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated Canada’s Conflict of Interest Act.

— With files from Global News’ Maham Abedi.


Emerald Bensadoun - Global News


What you need to know about the backgrounf of the Wet’suwet’en protests.

Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996

This paper on Aboriginal rights and title responds to widespread international interest in the Canadian context. Its primary objective is to share the Government of Canada's domestic experience of these issues with other nations interested in initiating and implementing similar processes with the goal of resolving outstanding Aboriginal claims to lands, resources and self-government.

This is also a contribution to the understanding of the international community regarding these issues in the context of the United Nations General Assembly's Decade of the World's Indigenous People (1995-2004), the Third Summit of the Americas and its Plan of Action, the creation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the creation of the OAS American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Finally, this guide is a response to the growing interest of Aboriginal organizations and communities in building closer links among themselves internationally, in order to get to know more about each other, share their common concerns, problems and conflicts, and initiate a broader search for strategic policies to tackle these issues.

Landmark Events in the Development of the Concept of Aboriginal Rights and Title in Canada

  • 1763 - Royal Proclamation marked British control over all of North America east of the Mississippi. Decreed that, from this date forward, only the British Crown could deal with Indians on land issues
  • 1764-1923 - a series of treaties were signed with Aboriginal groups. Some of the pre-confederation and all of the post-confederation treaties addressed reserve lands, hunting, fishing, trapping rights, annuities and other benefits
  • 1867 - the Dominion of Canada proclaimed the Constitution Act, 1867. This set out the legislative authorities of the federal Parliament and provincial legislatures. Section 91 (24) gave the Parliament of Canada authority over "Indians, and lands reserved for the Indians"
  • 1876 - Indian Act first enacted. Under this legislation, the Canadian Government regulated almost every aspect of the daily life of Aboriginal peoples
  • 1939 - the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the term "Indians" in section 91 (24) of the Constitution Act, 1867 includes the Inuit
  • 1969 - the federal White Paper called for a repeal of the Indian Act and an end to special status for Aboriginal peoples. Due to protests, it was withdrawn in 1971
  • 1969 - Calder case launched, concerning Aboriginal title claimed by the Nisga'a in British Columbia. The 1973 Supreme Court of Canada decision led the federal government to develop policies for land claims
  • 1982 - Constitution Act provided that "existing Aboriginal and treaty rights" are recognized and affirmed (section 35(1)) and that "the Aboriginal peoples of Canada" include the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada (section 35(2))
  • 1983 - Section 35 amended to provide for Constitutional recognition of rights acquired through both existing and future land claim agreements. Rights were guaranteed equally to male and female persons, and there was a commitment to consult Aboriginal peoples prior to certain constitutional changes affecting them
  • 1995 - Inherent Right Policy recognized the inherent right of Aboriginal peoples to self-government as an Aboriginal right within section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

This document translates complex legal, historical and political issues into more easily understood text. While all attempts at accuracy have been made, errors or omissions may have occurred. The views expressed in this paper do not necessarily represent the official policies or legal positions of the Government of Canada.

Brief History of Government- Aboriginal Relations and Evolution of Federal Policy on Aboriginal Peoples

Aboriginal peoples have occupied the lands of what is known today as Canada since time immemorial, and have many individual societies with their own heritages, languages, cultures, spiritual beliefs and contemporary issues. For instance, in Canada there are more than 600 First Nation communities (a term that came into common usage in the 1970s to replace the word "Indian," which many people found offensive), and the Inuit and Métis, that comprise 52 nations or cultural groups, 11 major linguistic families and more than 50 Aboriginal languages.

Historically, Aboriginal communities on Canada's east coast, in the central plains and around the Mackenzie and Yukon River basins were mainly nomadic hunters and gatherers, while the more sedentary communities on the Pacific coast harvested salmon, shellfish and whales from the sea. The Inuit of Canada's North hunted and fished through the Arctic barrens while Aboriginal communities around the Great Lakes were mainly sedentary and agricultural.

Today, there are approximately 2,300 reserves across the country, comprising more than 28,000 square kilometres (about the size of Belgium). In addition, between 1975 and 2002, over 800,000 square kilometres of land have come under the direct control of Aboriginal groups through the comprehensive claims process. The Specific Claims program has enabled First Nations to acquire 861,683 square kilometres of land. Some reserves (originally rural) have gradually been surrounded by major cities such as Montreal, Vancouver, and Calgary. Around 60 per cent of Status Indians live on reserves. According to the 1996 national census, almost 50 per cent of Canada's Aboriginal population (Status and non-Status Indians, Inuit and Métis) now lives in an urban centre.

The Métis began as the offspring of three distinct peoples: Aboriginal, and English or French settlers. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, significant numbers of Métis peoples were living across the Prairie provinces. Their mixed heritage, combined with their experience as intermediaries between the factions competing for trade and territory, resulted in their emergence as distinct peoples with their own culture, institutions and ways of life.

Today, Aboriginal peoples seek a quality of life that other Canadians take for granted. The Aboriginal population is experiencing a baby boom and there remain unresolved grievances rooted in the past dealing with residential schools, land claims and the treaty relationship. Aboriginal people are more likely to be recipients of social welfare, to be unemployed, to be incarcerated, to live in poverty, to face increased health risks and to commit suicide than other people in Canada.

Together with Aboriginal peoples, the Government of Canada is transforming the federal approach to indigenous issues from an earlier focus on "rights" and "grievances," into an integrated approach to quality of life, encompassing economic development, human capital, community infrastructure and governance. Comprehensive land claims negotiations remain an integral component of this agenda through the provision of an increased land base to Aboriginal groups within the process.

Government-Aboriginal relations can be divided into four historical periods:

  • Contact/Cooperation (1600-1800)
  • Decline/Assimilation (1800-1946)
  • Aboriginal Revival (1946-1969)
  • Reconciliation and Renewal (1969-Present)

Contact/Cooperation (1600-1800)

In the 18th Century, the French and British were competing for control of lands in North America. The two colonial powers formed strategic alliances with Aboriginal groups to help them advance their respective colonial interests in the continent. For example, in what is now New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the British made a series of "Peace and Friendship" treaties with the Mi'Kmaq and Maliseet tribes between 1725 and 1779.

By the early 1760s, the British had established themselves as the dominant colonial power in North America. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 prohibited the purchase of Aboriginal lands by any party other than the Crown. The Crown could purchase land from an Aboriginal group that had agreed to the sale at a public meeting of the group. The Royal Proclamation set the stage for the negotiation of legally binding agreements with Aboriginal peoples on a wide variety of issues.

Decline/Assimilation (1800-1946)

Several treaties were signed after the Royal Proclamation and before Confederation in 1867. These include the Upper Canada Treaties (1764-1862, Ontario) and the Douglas Treaties (1850-1854, British Columbia). Under these treaties, the Aboriginal groups surrendered interests in land in exchange for other benefits that could include reserves, annuities or other types of payment, and certain rights to hunt and fish.

In 1867, Ontario and Quebec were joined with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to form the Dominion of Canada. Today, Canada is not only an independent democracy, but also a federal state, with 10 provinces and three territories.

The national Parliament has power "to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Canada." Exclusive national powers include the following: taxation; defence; regulation of trade and commerce; "the public debt and property" (this enables Canada to make grants for a wide range of purposes to individuals or to provinces); the post office; the census and statistics; defence; the fisheries; international or interprovincial "works and undertakings" (including railways); and Indians and lands reserved for the Indians. The provincial legislatures have power over direct taxation in the province, natural resources, health and education, municipal institutions, local works and undertakings, and other issues of local concern.

Between 1871 and 1921, the Crown entered into treaties with various Aboriginal groups that enabled the Canadian government to actively pursue agriculture, settlement and resource development of the Canadian West and North. Because they are numbered 1 to 11, these treaties are often referred to as the "Numbered Treaties." The Numbered Treaties cover Northern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and portions of the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and British Columbia.

Under the Numbered Treaties, the Aboriginal groups who occupied these territories ceded vast tracts of land to the Crown. In exchange, the treaties provided for reserve lands and other benefits such as agricultural equipment and livestock, annuities, ammunition, gratuities, clothing and certain rights to hunt and fish on unoccupied Crown lands. The Crown also made promises regarding the maintenance of schools on reserves, or the provision of teachers or educational assistance to the Aboriginal groups. Treaty No. 6 also included the promise of a medicine chest.

For most Aboriginal peoples, however, settling in a permanent community was a new experience. The substantial reduction of their traditional hunting and fishing grounds made them highly dependent on non-traditional sources of livelihood and federal government support.

In 1876, the Government of Canada passed the Indian Act, which regulates aspects of daily life of Status Indians living on reserve. The act has been amended several times, most recently in 1985. Among its many provisions, the act establishes the structure for band governance, addresses education of Status Indians, and requires the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to manage certain moneys belonging to First Nations, to manage Indian lands, and to approve or disallow First Nations bylaws.

During the first half of the 20th century, governments made several successive attempts to assimilate Aboriginal peoples into mainstream society. Many indigenous children were removed from their families and sent to "residential schools" located away from their communities. These children were often forbidden to speak their own languages or to practice their cultures. While attempts at assimilation were ultimately unsuccessful, they helped contribute to the political, cultural and economic decline of many Aboriginal communities.

Aboriginal Revival (1946-1969)

At the end of World War II, a greater sensitivity to the culture and heritage of indigenous peoples began to develop in Canada. At the same time, a new generation of Aboriginal leaders made great efforts to attain a fair and just consideration of their rights, and urged the government to make changes in Aboriginal policy.

In 1946, the Canadian Parliament established a special joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons to consider a review of the Indian Act. Aboriginal leaders addressing the committee spoke out against the government's policy of assimilation and the power exercised by government officials over their daily affairs. The Indian Act was thoroughly reviewed in 1951 and some amendments were made.

Canada also began to implement policies to improve the living conditions of Aboriginal peoples. These included the recognition of the distinctiveness and richness of Aboriginal cultures, the dismantling of assimilationist policies, programs and supporting infrastructure (e.g., residential schools), the granting to Aboriginal people of citizenship and the right to vote in federal and provincial elections (in 1960, Aboriginal people were granted the federal vote - by 1968 all provinces had followed suit), and enhanced economic support. Partially as a result of these policies, improvements were made in the health, education and economic status of Aboriginal people by the mid 1960s.

In 1969, the Government of Canada released the "Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy" (the "White Paper"), which proposed the elimination of the Department of Indian Affairs and the Indian Act, and the transfer of responsibility for Indian peoples to the provinces. Objections by Aboriginal leaders that this policy would ignore treaty and other rights led to the withdrawal of the White Paper by the federal government.

Reconciliation and Renewal (1969-Present)

In 1969, the Nisga'a First Nation commenced litigation in which they claimed they had legal title to their traditional territory. The British Columbia Supreme Court rejected the Nisga'a arguments and ruled that no Aboriginal title existed. The Nisga'a took their case to the Supreme Court of Canada, which, while ruling against the Nisga'a on a technicality, ruled that the Nisga'a had a pre-existing title to the land based on their longtime occupation, possession and use of the traditional territory. The Court was evenly split on the issue of whether the Nisga'a title to the land had been extinguished when British Columbia joined the Canadian Confederation.

Following this case, the federal government opened the Native Claims Office in 1973 to negotiate with First Nations in areas of the country not covered by historic treaties, as well as to resolve, through negotiation, disputes related to treaty entitlements and related lawful obligations.

Key Developments on Aboriginal Land and Resource Issues

  • 1973 - Supreme Court of Canada divided in the Calder case on the issue of whether the Aboriginal title of the Nisga'a had survived until modern times. All judges recognized that Aboriginal title existed as a concept in Canadian common law, though they differed on the test necessary for its extinguishment
  • 1973 - Government responded to Calder with the creation of an Office of Native Claims
  • 1975 - James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) was the first comprehensive land claim settlement. Federal and Quebec governments, Hydro-Quebec, Grand Council of the Crees (of Quebec) and Northern Quebec Inuit Association were party to this agreement
  • 1982 - existing Aboriginal and treaty rights were recognized and affirmed in the Constitution Act, 1982
  • 1986 - significant amendments to the federal comprehensive land claims policy were announced, following an extensive period of consultation with Aboriginal groups. Key changes to the policy included the development of alternatives to blanket extinguishment of Aboriginal rights
  • 1990 - lifting of the limit of six comprehensive land claims under negotiation at any one time
  • 1990 - in the Sparrow case, the Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs, the Musqueam Indian Band, had an Aboriginal right to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes. The Court also found there is a fiduciary relationship between the Crown and Aboriginal peoples and section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 must be interpreted consistent with this. The Court placed a high burden on the Crown to justify any infringement of rights protected by section 35
  • 1993 - establishment of the British Columbia Treaty Commission (BCTC), an independent tripartite commission with the mandate to oversee the negotiation of claims in British Columbia
  • 1998 - in the Delgamuukw case, the Supreme Court made general pronouncements on the scope and content of Aboriginal title
  • 1999 - in the Marshall case, the Supreme Court ruled that there is an implied term in the Treaties of 1760-61 granting Mi'kmaq signatories a right to engage in traditional resource harvesting activities, including for purpose of sale, to the extent required to provide for a moderate livelihood. The Court clarified principles of evidence for interpretation of Indian historical treaties. In a clarification of its first decision, the Court stressed that the Crown can accommodate the historical involvement by non- Aboriginal persons in the resource industry in regulating a treaty right
  • 2000 - the Nisga'a Final Agreement was concluded, marking the first time in Canadian history that both the land claim settlement and selfgovernment arrangements were negotiated at the same time and given constitutional protection in a treaty
  • 1975-2004 - sixteen comprehensive claims have been settled in Canada since the announcement of the Government of Canada's claims policy in 1973, the most recent being those of the eight Yukon First Nations, the Nisga'a Agreement, and the Tlicho Agreement.

Existing Aboriginal and treaty rights were recognized and affirmed in the Constitution Act, 1982. Prior to 1982, the Crown could unilaterally extinguish aboriginal rights if it did so with plain and clear intent. Since 1982, however, the Crown no longer has that power, although the Crown can still infringe upon existing Aboriginal rights if it satisfies the justification test established by the Courts.

Following an extensive period of consultation with Aboriginal groups, in December 1986 significant amendments to the federal comprehensive land claims policy were announced, including:

  • openness to the development of alternatives to blanket extinguishment of Aboriginal rights
  • provision for the inclusion in settlement agreements of offshore wildlife harvesting rights, resource-revenue sharing, Aboriginal participation in environmental decision-making, and self-government arrangements
  • provision for the establishment of interim measures to protect Aboriginal interests during negotiations
  • the negotiation of implementation plans to accompany final agreements.

In 1990, the government announced that a six-claim limit on the number of comprehensive land claims negotiations the government would undertake at any one time had been eliminated, and the process was to be expanded.

Over the past 30 years, the Canadian courts have begun to define Aboriginal rights. For example, in 1990 the Supreme Court of Canada concluded in the Sparrow decision that the Musqueam Indian Band had an existing Aboriginal right to fish subject to justifiable limits such as conservation and public safety. This is just one example of an Aboriginal right. So far, Canadian law has confirmed that Aboriginal rights:

  • exist in law
  • may range from rights not intimately tied to a specific area of land, to site-specific rights, to Aboriginal title, which is a right to exclusive use and occupancy of land
  • are site, fact and group-specific
  • are not absolute and may be justifiably infringed by the Crown.

A number of Supreme Court of Canada decisions have also made reference to Aboriginal title. The most important of these is the 1997 Delgamuukw decision, in which the court said that:

  • Aboriginal title is a communal right
  • Aboriginal title, like other types of Aboriginal rights, is protected under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982
  • Aboriginal title lands can only be surrendered to the federal Crown
  • Aboriginal title lands must not be put to a use which is irreconcilable with the nature of the group's attachment to the land
  • in order for the Crown to justify an infringement of Aboriginal title, it must demonstrate a compelling and substantive legislative objective, it must have consulted with the Aboriginal group prior to acting and, in some cases, compensation may be required.

Due to evidentiary problems with the case, the Supreme Court of Canada found that a new trial was required to determine whether the plaintiffs enjoy the claimed Aboriginal title. The Court also strongly urged the litigants to turn to the negotiation process as the preferred means of resolving these issues.

Despite such findings, the Supreme Court has remained silent, for the most part, on the actual content of Aboriginal rights, and the extent and nature of these rights has been the subject of considerable debate. The Court has indicated on numerous occasions that negotiations are the best way to resolve issues associated with Aboriginal rights and title.

In the past, the provinces were not involved in negotiations with First Nations because the Government of Canada generally negotiated treaties in advance of settler populations and the creation of provincial governments. Today, however, most of the lands and resources which are the subject of comprehensive land claims negotiations are under provincial jurisdiction. Moreover, by establishing certainty of title to land and resources, claim settlements benefit the provinces. Canada therefore takes the position that provinces must participate in negotiations and contribute to the costs of the settlement.

Although land and resources in Canada's territories (the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut), are under federal jurisdiction, territorial governments fully participate in land claim settlement negotiations and in the implementation of resulting Final Agreements.

In 1995, the Government of Canada adopted policy which recognized the inherent right of self-government as an existing Aboriginal right under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Inherent Right Policy is based on the assumption that the Aboriginal peoples of Canada have the right to govern themselves in relation to matters that are internal to their communities, integral to their unique cultures, identities, traditions, languages and institutions, and with respect to their special relationship to their land and their resources. The subject matters over which Aboriginal groups exercise self-government powers are set out in negotiated agreements.

In April 1991, Canada created a Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) to examine Aboriginal issues. In response to the 1996 RCAP report, the Government of Canada announced Gathering Strength: Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan in January 1998. This plan reaffirmed that treaties will continue to be central to future government-Aboriginal relations.

In addition to the programs outlined above, the Government of Canada has also recognized the need to modernize the Indian Act, and legislation has been introduced to provide more effective tools for accountability and community governance.

But so far all talk - no action.


Remember the Oka Crisis

Protests across the country in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have led to politicians and advocates evoking the Oka Crisis of 1990.

The crisis, also known as the Mohawk Resistance, involved a nearly three-month standoff between Mohawk protesters, Quebec police and eventually the Canadian army. The issue began with proposed construction projects over a Mohawk burial ground.c

The standoff began in Oka, Quebe in July 1990, when Mohawk claimed land that was slotted for an expansion of a golf course and the construction of a condominium building.  Mohawk of the Kanesatake reserve, known as the Pines, urged the government to cancel the projects.

When that did not happen, blockades began springing up and Quebec’s provincial police, Sûreté du Québec (SQ), was called in.

The crisis escalated when an SQ officer died during a raid in 1990 after Mohawks south of Montreal blocked the Mercier Bridge.


Indigenous groups and allies began protesting across the country. Meanwhile, the RCMP and Canadian Armed Forces were asked to assist Quebec police.

The two construction projects were eventually cancelled.

Lessons from the crisis

Now, nearly 30 years later, the Oka Crisis is being cited as construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline forges ahead in British Columbia through unceded Wet’suwet’en territory, despite the opposition of hereditary chiefs.

The Mohawk First Nation has shut down train service across much of Eastern Canada over the weekend.

During a press conference Tuesday, Joseph Norton of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake also mentioned the crises while advocating for peaceful talks.

“To those people who are quick to come down or demand that harsh things be done, you know, it’s 30 years ago since what they called the Oka Crisis. It’s not that long ago with camp Ipperwash and the death of Dudley George. People quote that and use that as a reminder to themselves, we should use restraint,” Norton said.

“Nobody wants to see that again.”

Land issues still present

Lori Campbell, director of the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre at St. Paul’s University College, described the Oka Crisis as a “worst case scenario” that all sides are trying to avoid.

“There are more people in Canada who are interested in having a different Canada and a Canada that recognizes Indigenous rights, Indigenous sovereigntymm,” Campbell noted and stated that the use of police force, or the deployment of the military, is not as acceptable as it was 30 years ago.

She said there are lessons still to be learned on how to handle Indigenous sovereignty.


“It was never really about the golf course in particular for the Mohawk, it was about the invasion of that territory,” Campbell said.

“It could have been a pipeline, it could have been a golf course, it could have been a highway.”

With the Wet’suwet’en, she said the case is the same — the nation sees itself as a “caretaker” of the land and is trying to maintain its aboriginal title.

“Their job, their inter-generational responsibility is to make sure that [the land] is preserved for future generations.”


UPDATE 18. February 2020:

Wet’suwet’en protests: House of Commons holds emergency debate over rail blockades

By Emerald Bensadoun - 18. February 2020

Protests supporting Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs continue

An emergency meeting debate is underway at the House of Commons in Ottawa over the ongoing rail blockades and Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests that have spilled out across Canada.

The debate was called by the NDP to discuss the federal government’s responsibility in addressing human rights and Indigenous sovereignty — issues at the heart of the demonstrations in Wet’suwet’en territory.

Members of Parliament took turns criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the debate for past failed attempts at Indigenous reconciliation. NDP MP Leah Gazan accused the prime minister of “laughing” at protesters, while others called for action.

“We have landed in a predicament that can’t be fixed by police action,” NDP MP Taylor Bachrach said during the meeting. “If we listen closely, what we can hear is that there’s too much of a gap between what the government says about Indigenous Peoples and its actions.”

Gord Johns, another NDP MP, said the Liberals should be “ashamed of themselves.”

“The cost of not taking action is killing people,” he said. “That’s why people are rising up against this country.”

Despite calls for the Liberals to remove the Royal Canadian Mounted Police from Wet’suwet’en territory, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett stressed that the Government of Canada “cannot direct the RCMP.”

‘Human rights are not a partisan issue’: NDP MP Leah Gazan

“The presence of the RCMP has been articulated as a problem for the hereditary chiefs and many of the members of the community. We have articulated that and we want to help remove these obstacles,” she said.

Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller said there was “undeniable truth” that self-determination — the right for all people to determine their own economic, social and cultural development — was a better option and urged his government to take responsibility for its regressive policies.

The Liberal MP added self-governing Indigenous peoples have “better socio-economic outcomes” because they know how to best support their people.

“We have a number of people who are fighting for their rights, they’re fighting for a peaceful solution and we need to start listening to them,” he said.

Safety of all is ‘primary importance’: Indigenous Services Minister on Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests

But Conservative MP Cathy McLeod said the solidarity protests were less about human rights, instead calling them a “dress rehearsal” for any Trans Mountain pipeline protests in the future.

“The current government has allowed something to fester that they didn’t pay attention to,” she said. “It lays at their feet.”

Jamie Schmale, another Conservative MP, said some protesters have “no connection to this country” and accused them of pretending to advocate for the Wet’suwet’en because they weren’t Indigenous.

“A minority imposing their will on the majority is causing this problem,” Schmale said.

Conservative MP reads Indigenous statements allegedly in favour of Coastal GasLink pipeline

Conservative MP Tim Uppal criticized the Liberal government’s approach to the situation, and said he doesn’t think enough is being done for workers feeling the economic impact of what he described as “illegal” blockades.

Earlier Tuesday, Trudeau said it was “past time” for a resolution to rail blockades that have interrupted Via Rail service, shut down railroads, and temporarily blocked borders in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation for nearly two weeks.

He offered no clear answers for what action the government would be willing to take to move things forward other than being available to speak with protesters.

Conservatives say Liberals aren’t taking workers into consideration during heated debate on railway blockades

Meanwhile, National Chief Perry Bellegarde told reporters in Ottawa that governments and industry have to give the time and space to work with the Wet’suwet’en people.

“We say we want to de-escalate and we want dialogue,” he said.

“And I say our people are taking action because they want to see action — and when they see positive action by the key players, when they see a commitment to real dialogue to address this difficult situation, people will respond in a positive way.”

Tensions between the government and the Wet’suwet’en Nation have been escalating since Dec. 31, when British Columbia’s Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink an expanded injunction that established an exclusion zone against protesters interfering with the construction of a $6.6-billion pipeline.

If completed, the 670-kilometre pipeline is expected to carry natural gas from northeastern B.C. to a massive export plant being built near Kitimat, passing through the nation’s unceded territory.

The project has the support of 20 elected band council members — but not by the territory’s hereditary chiefs, who have maintained a blockade at several points along the proposed route.

Protests in support of the Wet’suwet’en Nation shut down the CN rail network in eastern Canada, suspended most Via Rail passenger service, and temporarily blocked traffic on streets and bridges and at ports in multiple cities for several days, forcing Via Rail to shut down nationwide train service and CN Rail to close its Eastern Canadian network.

Scheer slams Trudeau on rail crisis: All talk and no action

Limited service was restored by Via Rail on Tuesday along the Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec City corridor, which is not being blockaded. The train service company said it expects to resume partial passenger service Thursday between Ottawa and Quebec City, including a stop in Montreal.

In a statement to Global News Tuesday, CN Rail said it would be laying off approximately 450 of its Eastern Canadian operational staff, including employees working at Autoport in Eastern Passage, Moncton, Charny and Montreal.

“With over 400 trains cancelled during the last week and new protests that emerged at strategic locations on our mainline, we have decided that a progressive shutdown of our Eastern Canadian operations is the responsible approach to take for the safety of our employees and the protesters,” they said.

They added the layoffs were “regrettable,” as it was for reasons beyond their control, but said they were “well set up for recovery” once the blockades end.

Trudeau in Africa

Instead of addressing the crisis at home Prime Minister Justin Trudeau - as 2020 chair of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission - held on Monday 17. February a breakfast meeting for African heads of state, foreign ministers and representatives of the United Nations and other multilateral bodies to discuss ways to secure peace across the continent as a necessary condition for prosperity and to lobby for a seat in the UN security council for Canada.

Only a few people attended Justin Trudeau's breakfast meeting in Addis Ababa.

Trudeau's meeting - held on the sidelines of the 33rd African Union Summit in Addis Ababa - was intended to strengthen the Commission’s partnership with the African Union (AU) and to better integrate African priorities in conflict prevention and bolstering economic security. Among issues discussed were the role that international financial institutions and youth job creation can play in Africa in averting extremism and conflict; and the AU leadership in peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts.    

The talks, titled Sustaining Peace and Economic Security, aligned with the Summit’s theme: Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development.   

But only few attended: Among the participants were President Roch Marc Christian Kabore of Burkina Faso; the Vice President of Gambia, Isatou Touray; President of the United Nations General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and the foreign ministers of Sierra Leone and Rwanda.

It was revealed that Canada contributed substantially with $355 million to the African Development Bank's African Development Fund 15  to address fragility, strengthen resilience and sustain peace and economic security in Africa.