By Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and Peter McCartney
There’s no way around it—Indigenous peoples are the proper title and rights holders over their territories, and their human rights cannot be trampled just because a megaproject floats the dream of big money to investors.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recently called on Canada to immediately stop construction on three major industrial projects until affected Indigenous Nations have given their consent. The Coastal GasLink pipeline, Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, and the Site C dam have all been met with consistent opposition from many of the nations whose territories they would cross and infringe upon. Community members have been violently removed from their lands for asserting their title and rights and exercising their inherent right to control and develop their lands, territories and resources.
As we write this, the RCMP is preparing to descend upon Wet’suwet’en territory to clear the path of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, as the company recently won a court injunction that the RCMP is obliged to enforce. Meanwhile, land defenders who oppose the federally owned Trans Mountain pipeline have faced harassment, surveillance, intimidation, and violent arrest.
These events highlight the concerns of the UN for the rights and safety of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Police violence and human rights violations are only likely to escalate unless political leaders step in. Their courage or cowardice will define whether reconciliation becomes yet another hollow promise to Indigenous Peoples or a chance to build this country upon principles of equality and respect—the way it should have been from the beginning.
We’ve visited the Tiny House Warriors, the Rocky Mountain Fort, and the Unist’ot’en healing lodge in the path of these megaprojects. Friends have told us how they’ve been turned away from local businesses, constantly harassed and surveilled by police, and even injured in violent arrests. It does not and should not have to be like this.
We can have an economy that reflects our values. There’s a right way to provide jobs and prosperity, but it requires patience, humility and prioritizing the relationships that we are trying to build. Indigenous Peoples have laws and governments that have been in place on these territories long before Canada’s. Respecting their right to make decisions about those lands means accepting our shared future in this place is more important than any one resource project.
For generations, Canada has proudly supported human rights on the international stage at the United Nations forums while consistently failing to apply the same moral compass here at home. If we are going to live up to our ideals rather than repeat the mistakes of the past, and if British Columbia is to advance its commitment to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, we must heed the call and stop Trans Mountain, Coastal GasLink and Site C. Only once we stop straining the fragile bonds between us can we move forward in partnership.