It will be interesting to see how the Conservative Opposition in Ottawa and Alberta’s Conservative government react to yesterday’s announcement the federal and British Columbia governments have reached an accord with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation that would recognize its system of hereditary governance.
Participants said the agreement reached yesterday in Smithers, B.C., after three days of meetings among federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, B.C. Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser and Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chief Woos, Frank Alec, offers a tentative way forward toward resolving the thorny problem of land claims on unceded First Nations territory in British Columbia.
It should be evident even to those of us who know little of the complexities of Crown-Indigenous relations there is plenty that can still go wrong. The details of the agreement have not yet been made public pending approval by Wet’suwet’en members, nor does the deal resolve the dispute over the $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline, the proximate cause of the blockades that have convulsed Canadian politics through most of February.
Still, with good will and good luck, it seems possible the Smithers agreement could chart a path toward eventually resolving the complex and difficult legacy left by the Crown’s failure to negotiate treaties with British Columbia’s First Nations in the late 19th century, as happened on the Prairies.
Should that happen, history will likely bestow considerable credit on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government for their reluctance to give in to demands by the Opposition Conservatives and the Alberta government to respond immediately to the blockades with military or paramilitary violence.
Which is why the reaction of the federal Conservative Opposition, still led by lame duck leader Andrew Scheer, and the Alberta government, led by United Conservative Party Premier Jason Kenney, is extremely important.
So far, smelling blood, they have used the political crisis generated by the blockades to relentlessly attack Trudeau and his government. To do this, they have exploited apparent divisions within the Wet’suwet’en Nation, particularly between elected band councils and the hereditary chiefs, a topic on which most Canadians, including this blogger, are not well informed.
While yesterday’s agreement seems like a hopeful sign that a way forward to peacefully resolve this tangled historical legacy can eventually be found, the deal is bound to be fragile, and the temptation for Conservatives to put their own short-term political gain ahead of the country’s good must be very strong.
The Globe and Mail quoted Nathan Cullen, the former NDP MP for the region who the newspaper said has been serving as a liaison between B.C.’s NDP government and the hereditary chiefs, emphasizing the importance of letting the Wet’suwet’en review process play out internally this month.
It would be very tempting for mainstream Conservatives like Scheer and Kenney to crank up their attacks on the deal while it is still unresolved in hopes of putting more pressure on Trudeau.
Already, extreme elements of the conservative movement have made their decision, and it is not one of good will and patriotism. Various voices on the conservative fringe were cranking up their attacks on the agreement on social media last night before the ink on it was dry.
But it’s not too late for Conservatives in Ottawa and Edmonton, who for the moment seem to be holding their fire, to do the right thing and not attempt to sabotage the deal.
We’ll see very soon, presumably, what they decide to do.
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Image: Carolyn Bennett/Twitter