Rights versus responsibilities: what to do?

di Joe Volpe del March 2, 2020

TORONTO – “The Settlement, to me, is peanuts”, intoned Antoinette Austin, a Wet’suwet’en sympathizer protesting in support of the Hereditary Chiefs who in turn have been leading a well-orchestrated blockade against the interests o Canadians who have nothing to do with “the Settlement”.

Interviewed on location by the CBC, in British Columbia, Ms. Austin went on to deprecate the agreement signed by elected Band Councils as a modern-day sellout for “trinkets and beads from way back when”.

Words such as these are used alongside other charged vocabulary like “colonialists”, “settlers” and “occupiers” to remind everyone who is not Aboriginal that we have a long way to go before inhabitants/citizens in Canada can share a common, shared vision of our collective future.

This is 2020. Not even Prime Minister Trudeau seems to be able to find the magic wand …. or the correct formula. The protests can’t be about the money. The chart suggests he has been prepared to hand the “keys to the vault” over to whomever on the Aboriginal file. By the end of fiscal 2019-2020 expenditure line items for Aboriginals will total in excess of $17 Billion annually.

As per Budget tabled last year, there are no less than 42 specific programs totaling $4.5 billion just to help our Aboriginal brethren access those funds.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, this is not all for the Wet’suwet’en. According to the departmental website for Aboriginal and Indian Affairs Canada, there are 234 registered members of the Wet’suwet’en, only 123 living on reserve, in 30 residential units. Other estimates put the number of clan members somewhat higher, but none beyond 1,740 even when they include other nations “co-habiting” villages on the land.

To understand that a little better, “their land” comprises 22,000 square kms. That’s 160% the size of Ulster, better known as Northern Ireland, whose population of 1,815,400 is spread over a relatively tiny 14,130 sq. km.

The Wet’suwet’en lands are 85% the size of Sicily, area 25,711 sq. km. The island houses almost 5 million people. Over the millennia, Sicily has been overrun by invaders, colonizers, and settlers originating in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Greater Middle East.

In British Columbia, the “colonizer” private sector pipeline company - Coastal Gas Link (CGL) - whose successful negotiations with 20 elected Aboriginal band councils – including the Wet’suwet’en - lead to the “trinkets and beads” comment, agreed to a reported package of $338 million for those Aboriginals hired and a further $700 million in subcontract work to Indigenous companies .

The pipeline is estimated to cost $ 6.6 billion. Aboriginal youth will receive gainful employment and training in transferable skills for at least three years. The trade-o– is that pipeline will run across historic Wet’suwet’en (land see map) efectively dividing into two parts. The hereditary chiefs (unelected) of the five comprising clans claim not to have been adequately consulted, therefore, have withheld their consent.

Planning and work have come to a full stop. So have rail transport and related commerce in CentralEastern Canada, as the usual suspects (Mohawk Warriors, “Granolas” and far left environmentalists) protest in solidarity – 4,000 km from the territory.

There may be outstanding Indigenous Rights issues and Green custodial matters at stake, but it is particularly difficult for “colonizers” in Central Canada to engage favourably if the hereditary chiefs are only aiming to secure “more trinkets and beads” or “a greater quantity of peanuts”.

In a different “crisis” in October, 1970, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said, "A society must take all means at its disposal to defend itself against the emergence of a parallel power that defies the power of the elected government, and I believe this obligation has no limits.”

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