[Marxism] A pipeline offers a stark reminder of Canada’s ongoing colonialism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Feb 13 17:05:28 MST 2020

Washington Post, Feb. 13, 2020
A pipeline offers a stark reminder of Canada’s ongoing colonialism
By Alicia Elliott

Alicia Elliott is a Tuscarora writer from Six Nations of the Grand River 
and author of “A Mind Spread Out On The Ground.”

On Monday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police raided a Unist’ot’en camp 
erected to protect indigenous land in British Columbia, arresting 
several people as police enforced an injunction against the Wet’suwet’en 
hereditary chiefs, the Wet’suwet’en people and their allies. The moment 
completely encapsulated the current relationship between Canada and 
indigenous people. As Coastal GasLink employees cleared the camp to make 
way for a natural gas pipeline, they sawed in half a wooden gate with 
one word painted on it: “reconciliation.”

That word has been used by the Canadian government to describe their 
supposed desire to make things right with the indigenous people after 
centuries of ongoing genocide. But “reconciliation” is not an official 
policy but rather a political buzzword repurposed to signal moral 
progress on indigenous issues.

However, right now it is very hard to argue that Canada’s treatment of 
indigenous people actually has progressed.

Canada has a long history of disregarding indigenous rights to push 
forward corporate economic interests. In fact, one could say that’s a 
condensed version of the entire history of Canada. The founding and 
expansion of Canada is deeply indebted to the Hudson’s Bay Company, a 
fur-trading business that ultimately helped colonize much of western 
Canada. This connection runs so deep that Sir James Douglas, the “Father 
of British Columbia,” was both head of the Hudson’s Bay Company and 
governor of Vancouver Island for several years, before stepping down 
from his HBC post to become governor of British Columbia. King Charles 
II even “granted” the Hudson’s Bay Company roughly a third of Canada’s 
land mass, all without consulting or making treaties with any of the 
indigenous people who had cared for that land for centuries. Such is the 
arrogance of colonialism.

That same arrogance is what led to this moment.

Almost the entire province of British Columbia is unceded territory, 
which means that there was never any legal extinguishment of indigenous 
title on those lands. This position was reinforced with the landmark 
1997 Supreme Court ruling Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, which found 
section 35 of the Canadian Constitution protected indigenous title 
claims. The Delgamuukw decision also determined that provinces could not 
extinguish indigenous title. At the time, British Columbia was trying to 
argue that the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan nations’ titles to their 
respective lands had extinguished the moment British Columbia became a 

The Canadian government has had more than 20 years since this decision 
to try to find a way to legally justify controlling Wet’suwet’en land, 
which they still have no title for. Since the Indian Act prevented 
indigenous people from hiring lawyers without government permission from 
1927 to 1951, the Canadian government had an additional 24 years to make 
their land theft legitimate within their own legal framework. They could 
have done this any time within the past 153 years Canada has existed.

But they didn’t.

Then there’s the tricky issue of what “consent” actually means. For 
nearly 10 years, the conservative government of Stephen Harper refused 
to sign on to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous 
People (UNDRIP) because it took issue with the requirement that 
indigenous nations have “free, prior and informed consent” (FPIC) when 
it comes to any laws or land developments that impact them.

That changed when Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015. He campaigned on 
the promise that when indigenous nations said no to development, it 
would “absolutely” mean no. By May 2016, it seemed like Trudeau would 
make good on this promise, as Canada officially removed its objector 
status to UNDRIP.

But when Trudeau approved the Trans Mountain pipeline that same year, he 
changed course, saying indigenous nations “don’t have a veto” over 
proposed projects in their territories. Come the 2019 election cycle, 
after his government purchased the Trans Mountain pipeline project 
without consulting either Canadians or indigenous nations, Trudeau 
returned to his previous promise, saying he would fully implement UNDRIP 
into Canadian law if reelected.

Since then, the Trudeau government has not elaborated on what “free, 
prior and informed consent” might mean in a Canadian legal context, nor 
have officials clarified how Canada can claim to have consent at all 
when there is no way for indigenous nations to legally say no.

Further, though Coastal GasLink has received consent from Wet’suwet’en 
band councils to build the pipeline, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs 
from all five clans have insisted title lies with them, not the band 
councils, and they are the only ones who can give consent. This 
indigenous governance issue, too, is a legacy of the Canadian 
government’s policies. Canada’s Indian Act forced band councils onto 
indigenous territories, displacing traditional governance and creating 
political turmoil within communities.

But though many nations no longer have traditional leadership as a 
result of this political interference, the Wet’suwet’en do. So which is 
the real Wet’suwet’en government: the traditional one people have held 
onto despite colonial interference or the one that’s paid by — and 
accountable to — the Canadian government?

Canada’s perpetual prioritizing of corporate interests above all else — 
even its own laws — got us into this mess. To get out of it will require 
actually working with indigenous nations as equals, which means allowing 
our nations the right to say no.

If reconciliation isn’t just an empty word; if the Canadian government 
really does value its relationship with indigenous people; if the rule 
of law does apply to everyone, including Canadian politicians, 
multinational corporations and police, perhaps it’s time for Canada to 
prove it.

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