Honourable senators, I would like to return to the questions posed to Senator Gold by Senator Plett and Senator Martin with regard to the rail blockades and what is going on in British Columbia with the Wet’suwet’en situation.
The rail blockades are certainly having a negative impact on farmers and on propane transport through the rail system; I agree. Unfortunately, those kinds of situations are necessary in order to draw attention to the really critical issue, which is the nation-to-nation relationship between Canada and the Wet’suwet’en.
This government said it was committed to a nation-to-nation relationship, yet we could see that the situation has developed in northern B.C. over the last several years and the government does not seem to have a plan B. What were they going to do, because we knew this was going to happen?
Within the Canadian system there are five different ways of governing Indians, First Nations. The two we are talking about today are the Indian Act, a system of chief and council who are just like administrators; they are really not a form of self-government. There are self-governing nations. There are very few, maybe one or two dozen. Then there are the hereditary chiefs. The hereditary chiefs have a solid case through the court system that they are the government, but what is Canada doing to recognize this? We are on the brink of something really important here, and I’m very disappointed that the government does not have an action plan, does not seem to know the way forward. On the other hand, I’m impressed with Minister Miller because he went to them on their own terms saying, “I want to speak to you with respect to the Silver Chain Covenant.” The other ministers don’t seem to do that. We talk about the rule of law, but whose law —
What happened to the rule of law, of Indigenous law, in the Wet’suwet’en Nation? What happened to their rights and when is Canada going to recognize them?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate)
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Thank you, honourable senator, for your question. You’ve raised a fundamental issue. The challenge that Canadians, this government and previous governments have faced is partly one of political will. This government is committed to move forward on a nation-to-nation basis, but there is work that still needs to be done within the various communities, whether that’s the provincial governments, the federal government or even within the nations themselves. I’ve been advised that in the lead up to this project, which has become the flash point for this, there were hundreds if not thousands of meetings with hereditary chiefs and elected band council members, and a complicated diversity of opinion within the nation itself.
The government is hoping that in the nearest term, we can de-escalate the situation and get to work on addressing the problems that have been with us for a very long time, certainly with regard to the nation since the Supreme Court decision recognized that title some 25 years ago. Thank you for your question.