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“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

RUSTAD -- The timeframes in this agreement are extremely short which means there will be NO opportunity to do any meaningful engagement with Wet’suwet’en people

Hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in
Northern BC
 (Photo: Kathleen Martens/APTN)

Tomorrow, May 14th, Horgan's NDP government and the Federal Government will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en People. I think this approach is wrong on a number of levels as I will explain below.

On the surface, this is an attempt to start the process of addressing aboriginal title which, in my opinion, is long overdue and needed across BC. However, there is much more to this story.

The reason for this MOU was to try to bring blockades to an end that attempted to stop the Coastal Gas Link project connected to LNG Canada in Kitimat. When you look at the MOU, it does NOT achieve this. Furthermore, the Hereditary Chiefs have clearly stated they still oppose the project and are prepared to continue their actions.

We now have a Provincial Government aligning, supporting and empowering the very group that opposes LNG in BC. They are doing this despite the very vocal opposition by the Elected Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en to this MOU. These Elected Chiefs are very vocal supporters of LNG!

It goes further. This MOU will recognize and affirm a governance structure for the Wet’suwet’en people based on a person’s birth right.

Indigenous people in Canada were not allowed to participate in democracy through voting until the 1960s. It was a tremendous fight for Indigenous people to be recognized by Canadian law and to have that right.

The MOU that is about to be signed will work towards eliminating the Wet’suwet’en right to vote on their leadership concerning their rights and title. In my opinion, this is just wrong!!

According to UNDRIP, indigenous people have the right to participate in decision making in matters that affects their rights. This has been ignored in this instance. The Hereditary Chiefs have NOT engaged with the Wet’suwet’en people. They have not sought their consent. The Wet’suwet’en people have not even been given a copy of the actual MOU.

The Elected Chiefs have a legitimate complaint when it comes to this MOU proceeding. I can not understand why Horgan's NDP would proceed with this.

Next, Horgan's NDP made a big mistake when entering into an agreement in the Peace River area concerning caribou. They did NOT engage with non-indigenous people who have been significantly impacted by that agreement. They are making the same mistake here!

How will this engagement and resolution of Wet’suwet’en Title impact non-indigenous people? How will it affect private land rights? How will it impact tenures, access, rights to hunt and fish and so much more?

There is NO provision to even inform non-indigenous people and certainly NO provision to engage with people, communities or their leaders.

Furthermore, the time-frames in this agreement are extremely short which means there will be NO opportunity to do any meaningful engagement with Wet’suwet’en people, neighboring First Nations or non-indigenous people.

Once again, this is just wrong!

Finally, the world is in the middle of a pandemic. The restrictions being applied to society means there is no practical way to do any engagement with community members.

The entire negotiation is supposed to last ONE year with many parts to be completed in just a few months. It is completely unrealistic to achieve this unless you plan to completely ignore any engagement, input or concerns.

The right thing for Horgan's NDP government to do would be to pause, allow for the engagement with the Wet’suwet’en people, bring the elected representatives to the table and rework the MOU in order to be open, transparent and respectful of all of the people who live, work and play in Northwest BC.

JOHN RUSTAD ... was first elected as the MLA for Nechako Lakes (2005); he previously served as the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation -- Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations -- and as Parliamentary Secretary for Forestry.


He currently serves as the Official Opposition's critic on Forest, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations and was appointed to the Select Standing Committee on Parliamentary Reform, Ethical Conduct, Standing Orders, and Private Bills.


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