Protesters block a rail line in Edmonton in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, on Feb. 19, 2020. PHOTO BY DAVID BLOOM/POSTMEDIA NEWS
OTTAWA — Federal officials are facing calls for greater clarity on how a bill to harmonize Canada’s laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples could affect future development projects and government decisions.
Opposition MPs studying Bill C-15 are asking why the Liberals have not included a definition of a key article from the UN declaration that would compel Ottawa to obtain “free, prior and informed consent” from Indigenous Peoples on any decisions that affect their lands or rights.
Conservatives have raised concerns that this provision would give First Nations a “veto” over development projects, but Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett says there is “complete consensus” from legal and Indigenous experts that this is not the case.
Pressed today on whether she would personally support a more definitive interpretation of “free, prior and informed consent” in the bill, Bennett says she would “worry” about this move.
Bennett says a consensus would be needed among Indigenous partners co-developing the bill with the government on how to define this consent provision — something that has not been reached to date.
She adds her government is listening to calls from a number of national Indigenous organizations looking for changes to strengthen the bill and ensure their existing land and treaty rights are not frozen or eroded by this new law.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2021.
People take part in a protest in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the LNG pipeline in northern B.C. near Confederation Bridge in Borden, Prince Edward Island on Feb. 17, 2020. With the hereditary chiefs now on a fast track to settle Indigenous rights and title, elected leaders who have approved the pipeline project say they cannot be ignored. JOHN MORRIS/THE CANADIAN PRESS
Elected band council chiefs of Wet’suwet’en Nation are demanding a voice on the tentative agreement reached this past weekend between hereditary chiefs and the governments of Canada and British Columbia, saying negotiations so far have taken place without their involvement.
The division between elected and hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en has been exposed by the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their traditional lands. Now, as the hereditary chiefs are on a fast track to settle Indigenous rights and title, elected leaders who have approved the pipeline project say they cannot be ignored.
“Negotiation of this agreement to date has moved forward without our Wet’suwet’en communities,” the elected chiefs representing the Nee Tahi Buhn Indian Band, Skin Tyee Nation, Ts’il Kaz Koh (Burns Lake) First Nation, Wet’suwet’en First Nation and the Witset First Nation stated in a joint news release.
“We need to be engaged in our feast hall, in our respective communities to ensure all of our clan members are heard and acknowledged.”
Chief Patricia Prince, of the Nee Tahi Buhn Indian Band, said Tuesday the hereditary chiefs, through the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, a non-profit society, have invited her community to travel to Smithers, B.C., to discuss the terms of the proposed agreement, which have not been publicly disclosed.
“I’m not sure I can load up all our members and take them there,” she said in an interview. “We need collaboration. I would like to see them come to our communities and address our members.”
Sparked by a countrywide conflict over the pipeline, representatives of the hereditary chiefs and the Indigenous relations ministers for Canada and British Columbia met for three days in Smithers last week.
The pipeline dispute remains unresolved, with hereditary chiefs remaining opposed to the project. But the negotiations resulted in a proposal to expedite negotiations to implement Wet’suwet’en rights and title, pending ratification by Wet’suwet’en clan members.
The Wet’suwet’en say their unceded traditional territory covers 22,000 square kilometres in British Columbia. About 190 kilometres of the 670-kilometre pipeline route cross Wet’suwet’en territory.
There have been solidarity protests across the country since early February, when the RCMP arrested 28 people along a B.C. logging road while enforcing a court order sought by Coastal GasLink to gain access to pipeline work sites.
B.C. Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser said Tuesday he has been in touch with both the elected and hereditary chiefs about the ratification process that is expected to conclude by March 13.
He said in an interview he expects the ratification will include both elected and hereditary leaders – and the Wet’suwet’en people.
“It’s an opportunity to address rights and title issues, and governance issues, in a meaningful way,” he said. “I’m urging all to make sure that it’s an inclusive process that will withstand scrutiny.”
However, Mr. Fraser is unclear of the details of how the ratification will be conducted. He referred to a vote, but the traditional governance of the Wet’suwet’en is through feasts, where hereditary leaders are held accountable to their people.
The Wet’suwet’en Nation comprises five clans, under which there are 13 house groups, each with a hereditary head chief position (four are currently vacant). One house chief has taken a neutral position on the pipeline project.
There are eight hereditary house chiefs spanning the five clans who are opposed to Coastal GasLink. So far, three of the clans scheduled meetings this week.
Organizers have been seeking to set up access for off-reserve members to listen in on the meetings.
The Wet’suwet’en have been fighting for recognition of their rights and title for decades and a resolution is not expected quickly. But the consultation process now taking place is expected to lead to some clarity about the opposition to the pipeline within the community.
Elected band councils along the pipeline route have signed benefit agreements to work with the company.
The elected chief of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, Maureen Luggi, said engagement by the hereditary chiefs has been “extremely minimal,” but she said the hereditary chiefs have agreed to come to her community on March 11 to outline the proposed deal.
Chief Luggi said this is the time for the elected and hereditary leaders to come together. “We want to work with them and be on the same page,” she said in an interview. “People in the public say the Wet’suwet’en need to resolve our matters, and I agree with that.”
While some protests continue, CN announced Tuesday it has started calling back most of the rail company’s temporarily laid off employees based in Eastern Canada.
More than 1,400 trains, including passenger trains, were delayed or cancelled because of the blockades, but there have been no significant illegal actions since the weekend.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said it was a “positive development” for railways, CN workers and communities affected by recent rail disruptions. “I’m pleased to see our railway network on its way to recovery,” Mr. Garneau said on Twitter.
This article first appeared in The Globe and Mail.
Canadian soldier Patrick Cloutier and protester Brad Larocque come face-to-face at Kanesatake near Oka, Que., on Sept. 1, 1990. Now, a Quebec developer is offering to give back land that was at the heart of the dispute. (Shaney Komulainen/The Canadian Press)
Land is a part of The Pines, a forested area important to the Mohawks of Kanesatake
A Quebec developer is offering to give back to the Mohawks of Kanesatake part of a forested area of land that was at the heart of the Oka Crisis.
Grégoire Gollin said he’s committed to transferring around 60 hectares of the forest known as The Pines in the spirit of reconciliation, through a federal ecological gifts program.
“As a citizen, I don’t have to wait for the government to do my contribution to reconciliation,” he said.
“My concrete gesture is to initiate giving back to the Kanesatake this piece of forest I own and they value a lot in their heart because it has been planted by their ancestors.”
In 1990, the municipality of Oka, Que., planned to expand a golf course in The Pines, sparking the 78-day standoff known as the Oka Crisis between the people of Kanesatake, the Sûréte du Québec and later the Canadian military. The area is a part of a 300-year-old land dispute over the seigneury of Lake of Two Mountains.
“At the heart of the Oka Crisis, it was not money, it was the land,” said Gollin.
“I have significant pieces of land adjacent to Kanesatake, so I decided to make my contribution.”
The Ecological Gifts Program is a federal program through Environment and Climate Change Canada. (CBC)
How ecological gifts work
Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Ecological Gifts Program offers a tax benefit to landowners who donate land or a partial interest in land to a qualified recipient, via the Income Tax Act of Canada and the Quebec Taxation Act.
Scott Nurse, a policy analyst with the program, said it’s never been used to return land to a First Nation. In order for the gift to be approved, the land has to be certified by the province as ecologically sensitive, the recipient has to be approved and the land has to be appraised for fair market value.
“Recipients of ecological gifts must maintain the ecological gift and conservation status or receive authorization from the Minister of Environment and Climate Change for changing the use of the property or disposing of the property,” said Nurse.
Gollin has owned a section of The Pines for a number of years. In 2017, his housing project Domaine des Collines d’Oka sparked protests by people in Kanesatake for its proximity to The Pines.
Mohawk activist Ellen Gabriel has long wanted a moratorium on all development within the area under dispute until the land claim is resolved. She said more land has been developed in the area in recent years than what they opposed in 1990.
“Let’s settle the land dispute that was promised during the negotiations in 1990, so people can get on with their lives and we don’t have to keep worrying,” said Gabriel.
“It’s the first stage. The ultimate goal is to live in peace.”
Claim nears settlement
Canada accepted the claim in 2008 under the Specific Claims Policy, and negotiations have been ongoing with the Mohawk Council.
Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada said significant progress has been made since negotiations began, and that it’s currently reviewing a settlement offer. Settlements for specific claims are typically a cash amount and the opportunity to buy land from willing sellers.
In addition to the ecological gift, Gollin is also offering to make around 150 hectares of his vacant land available for purchase by the federal government to transfer to Kanesatake. His commitments to both were signed in a declaration of mutual understanding and agreement with Grand Chief Serge Simon on behalf of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake in June.
Gabriel is skeptical of the agreement, as little information on its contents has been given to the community by the Mohawk Council.
“Nobody has seen it,” she said.
The agreement, obtained by CBC News, was first reported on by the Eastern Door newspaper in May.
While the agreement says it is subject to final approval by the Mohawk people of Kanesatake, consultation has yet to occur.
Mohawk leader Ellen Gabriel, far left, listens to Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon during a protest in 2017 at the site of Gollin’s Collines D’Oka housing development. (Matt D’Amours/CBC)
“Gollin was kind of giving me hope that maybe we could progress, but if it’s such a good thing, why wouldn’t the agreement be made public to the community? And why weren’t we consulted on it?” said Gabriel.
She isn’t the only one questioning the agreement. Caitlyn Richard, 25, participated in the protests against Gollin’s housing development in 2017 and said seeing the clearing of the forested area was “scary, knowing that this is where I live and where I plan on living, and we’re polluting it.”
She says Gollin’s offer “sounds too good to be true.”
Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon told CBC News the ecological gift suits the community’s goals with The Pines.
“Our goal has always been to protest the pine forest from any further development that undermines the peace of the region,” he said.
The band council will be seeking direction from the community on whether to accept, reject or seek changes to Gollin’s offer, he said.
Municipality calls meeting
Neither has Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon, who is calling a meeting for July 17 to discuss the agreement with Oka residents.
According to a July 5 Facebook post, the municipality wishes to be consulted by the federal government before any land is transferred.
“This agreement to transfer vacant land and the federalization of municipal lots adjacent to the neighbouring land are more than worrying for the sustainability of our municipality,” wrote Quevillon.
“This is a file that needs to be taken into consideration today, because important consequences could be felt in the years to come…. Our municipal administration is wondering when we are going to be consulted by the federal government.”
Jeremy Teiawenniserate Tomlinson, 38, is hoping people of Kanesatake attend the meeting. He’s concerned about the lack of information given to his community about the agreement, and also wants residents of Oka to understand the root of the issue.
“Kanesatake is one of the oldest Mohawk communities. We’ve been here for so long and our land has been taken from us,” said Tomlinson.
“We’ve been dispossessed of it over the years, and it still continues after every level of government is preaching about reconciliation.”
Tomlinson, who was nine years old during the Oka Crisis, said he can’t help but feel similarities between then and what’s happening now when it comes to the community’s relationship with the nearby municipality.
“The village of Oka going against the community of Kanesatake and openly trying to mobilize efforts against what we are doing with our land — it’s not too far from what was happening in 1990.”
Sergio Rojas indigenous land activist is pictured during a interview in Salitre, Buenos Aires de Puntarenas, Costa Rica, October 2, 2015. Courtesy of La Nacion via REUTERS
A well-known Costa Rican indigenous land rights activist was gunned down on Monday night.
Sergio Rojas was at his home in the indigenous territory of Salitre, about 200 km (124 miles) south of the capital, San Jose, when the attack happened late on Monday, the office of President Carlos Alvarado said, calling the killing “regrettable.”
According to a press release, Rojas was assassinated by armed gunmen who shot him as many as 15 times at around 9:15 pm in his home in Yeri. It appears the armed assailant entered the back of Sergio’s home. Neighbors called 911. Over an hour later police arrived. Eventually members of the Red Cross entered and confirmed that he died of multiple gunshot wounds.
The Tico Times reports, an investigation into the murder has been initiated, led by the country’s Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) in collaboration with National Police.
Alvarado said he has asked the Public Security Ministry (MSP) to provide all necessary support to OIJ to aid the investigation.
MSP officers maintain a presence at the location of Sergio Rojas’s apparent murder. (Via Casa Presidencial. )
Rojas was President of the Association for the Development of the Indigenous Territory of Salitre and coordinator of the National Front of Indigenous Peoples (FRENAP) in Costa Rica and was a staunch defender of the Bribri of Saltire Indigenous people who have been fighting for years to regain their rights to over 12,000 hectares of land in southern Costa Rica pledged to them by a 1938 government agreement, according to a 2014 teleSUR report.
In 2012, Rojas was shot at six times in an apparent assassination attempt near the reserve but escaped the shooting unscathed.
Reuters reports, in 2015, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the government to provide Bribri and Teribe people with protection, arguing they were at risk because of actions taken to recover their lands.
Costa Rica has 24 indigenous territories inhabited by eight ethnic groups, with occupation and encroachment on their land by ranchers causing conflict since the 1960s.
Farmers, angered in a land dispute, burned down the home of an indigenous family in Salitre, a Bribrí indigenous reserve in south-central Costa Rica, July 5, 2014. (The Tico Times)
“He [Rojas] made a lot of enemies over the years,” said Sonia Suárez, a schoolteacher in Salitre.
In a statement, Costa Rica’s ombudsman said Rojas had requested further police protection on Friday after he and other members of his organization said they were shot at in connection with their “recovery” of a farm on Bribri land.
The Central American country has for years struggled to mediate land-right disputes between indigenous and non-indigenous people.
Costa Rica’s 1977 Indigenous Law prohibits the sale of indigenous lands, but is not clear on what to do in cases where land within reserves was already farmed by outsiders.