We begin this session by starting with the broad concept of governance. At stake in Wet’suwet’en territory has been the question of jurisdiction, namely who has jurisdiction over the land: the band councils, who voted in favour of the Translink Project, or the hereditary leadership, or, furthermore, the courts, or the RCMP? The first place to go, if you’re new to this group, is to catch up on how the band councils were established. They were first put in place by a pre-confederation framework, the Gradual Civilization Act, and then by the first Indian Act. You can find links to these readings at the bottom of the page because while they will provide you with some very useful background, the focus of the conversation will be on one single chapter, taken from Talking Back to the Indian Act, edited by Keith Smith and Mary Helm.
Ways to Read
“Governance,” is the second chapter in Talking Back to the Indian Act, and it begins with some framing questions you might find useful to think about as you read. Smith and Helm’s project is to insist upon indigenous methods of reading alongside western academic methods of reading. Two foundational concepts they are inviting readers to think about in this chapter are: responsibility and causality. The concept of responsibility relates to the notion that all texts are produced within a relational structure, and that when we consider the responsibility of a given account, we might ask to whom or to what the writer/speaker/etc considered themselves responsible. The concept of causality, drawn from a more western methodology, asks readers to think about the kinds of choices historical actors made, remembering that “actions are caused by a number of sometimes contradictory factors,”(Smith and Kelm 12). Causality asks us to consider what precedents were in play.
The focus of our conversation in week one will be on the Governance chapter from Talking Back to the Indian Act. While not strictly focused on Wet’suwet’en, it illustrates that indigenous peoples have insisted on the integrity of their own methods of governance for time immemorial. Here we see them in the early years of the Indian Act, responding in a variety of ways to the Canadian government’s efforts to impinge upon their rights.
If you’re looking to understand where the band council system comes from, we recommend looking at the formative legal documents: the earliest is the Gradual Civilization Act 1857 and we can also recommend that you review the early weeks of the Indian Act session we did in fall 2018.