Conflict in Wet’suwet’en Territory

This series ran for the first time in Spring 2019. It focuses on the conflict in Wet’suwet’en territory which captured national attention late in 2018 and into early 2019, and erupted again in early 2020. Key players in the conflict include the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who have jurisdiction over traditional Wet’suwet’en territory; the Band councils, who have jurisdiction over the reserves; the RCMP; the BC government; and industry, i.e. Coastal GasLink, which wants to put a fracked gas pipeline through Wet’suwet’en land.

Coastal GasLink emphasizes that Band councils voted in favour of the pipeline, but band councils only represent reserves, five of which are Wet’suwet’en.
Reserves represent a fraction of the size of Wet’suwet’en territory.
This is Wet’suwet’en territory, over which the hereditary chiefs–not the band council chiefs–have jurisdiction.

Who has jurisdiction over the land?

The band council chiefs are implicated in a system of governance imposed by Canada; they have jurisdiction over the reserves and are elected by those who live on reserve and are members of the band. For more on this system please consult the session on the Indian Act. The Hereditary chiefs have had jurisdiction over their much larger territories since time immemorial, a fact that was recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in Delgamuuk (1997).

The BC Supreme court granted Coastal GasLink an injunction in early 2019, allowing construction to begin, though the company stepped back in the face of international protest. In early 2020, the RCMP said they were willing to enforce the injunction with “minimal use of force,” a flagrant euphemism given the militarized tactical units that were flown in, the revelation that the RCMP offers were instructed to use as much violence as they wanted and the attempt to block journalists from seeing and reporting on the situation.

The above actions fly in the fact of the landmark Supreme Court Delgamuukw case (1997), which recognized Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan rights to their land, as well as broader questions related to jurisdiction and governance.