On the first service of 2020, a Commentary by Susan Czarnocki
Land-claims once again became ‘top-of-the-news’ for a day on December 20th, when the CBC carried a story on an investigation by a British Newspaper concerning notes related to the RCMP protection of the GasLink workers after a court order went against the objections of the Wet’suet’en. They claim that the project violates their traditional rights to the land where GasLink intends to lay a natural gas line.
The headline on the CBC website reads: “U.K. news outlet suggests police were prepared to shoot protesters blockading pipeline”. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/rcmp-snipers-first-nation-pipeline-protest-guardian-1.5405111
The Guardian published notes from what was described as an RCMP strategy session, relating to the blockade, stating the RCMP argued for “lethal overwatch” * of the site and officers were instructed to use “as much violence toward the gate as you want” in order to remove a roadblock erected by Wet’suet’en protesters.
Is there any place in this world for the proposition that territory actually belongs to those who have occupied it for millennia? Does it simply cease being theirs when sufficient damage is done to them that they can no longer resist against those who have more power? Is that what we mean when we speak of ‘fairness and justice’ for First Nations?
All around the world, aboriginal occupants of traditional territory are claiming that natural justice must offer special standing in their claim to that territory and everywhere that claim is being contested. How can such claims be settled, when the two sides do not share a common body of law on the basis of which these claims could be objectively adjudicated?
We are supposed to be entering an era of ‘truth and reconciliation’. It seems we are still stuck in the era of ‘shoot first and negotiate later’.
This is Canadian society’s greatest moral challenge. Several conflict-management approaches have been broached in Canada to generate ‘healing and reconciliation’. But comments such as these from rhe RCMP indicate that the mind-set that land claims are best ‘negotiated’ with force still remains – most likely with major popular support.
At the Lakeshore service on January 5th, Marlene Hale,”Chef Maluh”, herself a Wet’suet’en, will be discussing the objections of the Wet’suet’en people to the building of a natural gas pipeline across their traditional territory.
Join the conversation: come on January 5th and bring your thoughts about finding a way forward.
* Generally a reference to snipers.