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Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau called the ar­rest of 14 Wet’suwet’en land de­fend­ers a “less than ideal sit­u­a­tion” this week, adding ev­ery­one has the right to protest, as long as they re­spect the rule of law.

Let’s un­pack that for a mo­ment.

A “less than ideal sit­u­a­tion” is miss­ing the sale on three-ply Kleenex at Shop­per’s Drug Mart and hav­ing to set­tle for two-ply in­stead.

A “less than ideal sit­u­a­tion” is lock­ing your keys in your car.

The ar­rests of 14 peo­ple by heav­ily armed RCMP of­fi­cers over an is­sue that will loom large in the 2019 fed­eral elec­tion — ad­her­ence to Indige­nous hu­man rights and land ti­tle? Less than ideal doesn’t cap­ture it.

As this week again showed, on a num­ber of im­por­tant fronts, the Trudeau gov­ern­ment’s re­la­tions with Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties are nowhere near ideal.

Take the sit­u­a­tion that tran­spired in an Ot­tawa hear­ing room on Wed­nes­day, as Canada once again found it­self ar­gu­ing against Cindy Black­stock, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the First Na­tions Fam­ily and Car­ing So­ci­ety.

At is­sue was which chil­dren are Indige­nous enough, ac­cord­ing to the In­dian Act (a pa­ter­nal­is­tic law cre­ated in 1876 that gov­erns the lives of all Sta­tus In­di­ans in this coun­try), and there­fore who should qual­ify for ser­vices un­der Jor­dan’s Prin­ci­ple, which aims to en­sure all Indige­nous kids re­ceive eq­ui­table care no mat­ter where they live.

At the end of the hear­ing, Black­stock said “no­body had an an­swer as to what will hap­pen to chil­dren” in need of ur­gent care for life-threat­en­ing con­di­tions while the tri­bunal process con­tin­ues — or, more to the point, who will pay for their care.

At least un­til the Cana­dian Hu­man Rights Tri­bunal meets again to dis­cuss this is­sue in March, chil­dren will re­main at risk.

She added the so­ci­ety has of­fered to sit down and me­di­ate di­rectly with the gov­ern­ment.

Black­stock will never sup­port us­ing Canada’s In­dian Act blood quan­tum method to de­ter­mine who is, or is not, First Na­tions. Be­long­ing should be de­cided by the Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties them­selves, not by Ot­tawa.

“Our an­ces­tors were dis­tinct First Na­tions cit­i­zens be­fore the In­dian Act and so are we,” Black­stock elo­quently tweeted.

Time and time again, Canada fails to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of Indige­nous law and the sa­cred bonds with the land and com­mu­ni­ties.

This was ev­i­dent, too, in the “less than ideal” sit­u­a­tion play­ing out in north­ern Bri­tish Columbia this week.

Wet’suwet’en hered­i­tary chiefs are care­tak­ers of 22,000 square kilo­me­tres not cov­ered by any treaty.

Hered­i­tary chiefs have pro­tected the land, on be­half of fam­i­lies, since be­fore Canada ex­isted.

This isn’t a part-time job; it is a sa­cred duty.

When it came time to “con­sult” on the pro­posed $6.2bil­lion Coastal Gaslink pipe­line, the hered­i­tary chiefs, un­like the chiefs and band coun­cils, were left out.

On Wed­nes­day, in the in­ter­ests of the safety of the land de­fend­ers, Wet’suwet’en chiefs struck an in­terim agree­ment to give the com­pany tem­po­rary ac­cess be­hind the gates.

This isn’t over by a long stretch, warned the Union of Bri­tish Columbia In­dian Chiefs (UBCIC) Grand Chief Ste­wart Phillip.

It is nei­ther “ad­e­quate nor sub­stan­tial” for com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ments to deal with the elected band coun­cils and then turn around and say we have done our con­sul­ta­tion work, Phillip said.

The 675-kilo­me­tre pipe­line project could be fur­ther de­layed if the Na­tional En­ergy Board de­cides that the pipe­line falls un­der fed­eral, not just provin­cial, ju­ris­dic­tion, he said.

That would mean en­vi­ron­men­tal hear­ings would take place.

For the prime min­is­ter, the Site C Dam on the Peace River presents yet an­other sit­u­a­tion that is far from ideal.

And it is one that has caught the at­ten­tion of the United Na­tions Com­mit­tee on the Elim­i­na­tion of Racial Dis­crim­i­na­tion, which was first re­ported by The Nar­whal, an on­line in­ves­tiga­tive news site (full dis­clo­sure: I am a vol­un­teer on The Nar­whal’s board of di­rec­tors.)

The UN body has or­dered that Canada sus­pend con­struc­tion on the 1,100 megawatt hy­dro dam, which would flood 128 kilo­me­tres of the Peace River in Treaty 8 ter­ri­tory.

The UBCIC has launched a civil suit against con­struc­tion.

“The com­mit­tee is con­cerned about the al­leged lack of mea­sures taken to en­sure the right to con­sul­ta­tion and free, prior and in­formed con­sent with re­gard to the Site C dam, con­sid­er­ing its im­pact on Indige­nous peo­ples con­trol and use of their lands and nat­u­ral re­sources,” said the Dec. 14, 2018 let­ter that was sent to Rose­mary Mc­car­ney, Canada’s am­bas­sador to the UN.

The com­mit­tee gave Canada un­til April 8, 2019 to re­spond.

Now, prime min­is­ter, that is less than ideal.


Canada has failed to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of Indige­nous law and the sa­cred bonds with the land and com­mu­ni­ties, Tanya Ta­laga writes.

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