THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 25, Season 9
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Guests: Minister Carolyn Bennett, Ellis Ross, Kanenhariyo, Premier Scott Moe
It’s Sunday, February 23rd. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.
Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister: “The situation as it currently stands is unacceptable and untenable. Everyone involved is worried. Canadians have been patient, our government has been patient, but it has been two weeks and the barricades need to come down now. History has taught us how governments can make matters worse if they fail to exhaust all other possible avenues.”
Chief Woos, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief: “And we heard Prime Minister Trudeau just a little while ago talking about the inconvenience that Canada has suffered. However, there is a difference between inconvenience and injustice – total difference. Don’t confuse one with the other. There’s a big difference.”
Mercedes Stephenson: That was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Woos, late Friday on the ongoing standoff over the Coastlink Gas project in B.C. The railway blockades began over two weeks ago, to show solidarity with the hereditary chiefs, but what does all this mean for reconciliation? And what will the government do next? Carolyn Bennett is here, she is the minister in charge of Crown-Indigenous Relations, and she’s in Toronto right now. Thank you for joining us, Minister Bennett.
Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations: It’s an important topic.
Mercedes Stephenson: On Friday, you had a press conference that had a remarkable change in tone from your government’s previous negotiating strategy. It was much more hardened. You said the time for negotiations had come to an end, that you believed you’d exhausted all avenues and the prime minister was very direct in saying it was time for the blockades to come down, something a lot of people interpreted as a signal to police to act. Where are you at since that press conference? Have things gone silent or are you making any kinds of progress?
Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations: No, I think that we are continuing the conversations and I think that even just before that press conference, we are making good progress. I think that the—what the people at the blockades and the people who’d occupied our offices wanted was the RCMP, to be able to leave that Wet’suwet’en land there and particularly, the detachment, the temporary detachment office, the CISO, the Community Industry Safety Office, that has been a real barrier to conversations. And I think that for the RCMP in British Columbia, to take that operational decision, to decommission that office and eventually be able to remove it, for them yesterday morning, to be removing the equipment, removing documents, I think that when—that that has been the indicator that Wet’suwet’en asked for and that the Mohawk asked for, and I hope that that will mean that we can make progress and get to the table, to have the really important conversations with the Wet’suwet’en on lands and title and their path to self-determination.
Mercedes Stephenson: Now the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs were very clear in saying that the RCMP had to be off their territory completely, not just off the road, and that you had to commit to not building that pipeline. It doesn’t sound like just pulling back from the House was enough for them. So do you think that they’re willing to compromise on that now after that press conference?
Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations: I understand that there have been very good conversations between the B.C. RCMP and the hereditary chiefs. I think that Nathan Cullen has been doing an excellent job, really, with the communication with all parties, including the province of British Columbia and that we will see progress and that that is—that this is a conversation between the police and the hereditary chiefs. But I am very optimistic.
Mercedes Stephenson: What did you learn about the protestors, because in the press conference, the prime minister said that not everybody at these blockades is there because they are committed to reconciliation? What do you know about these protestors that we don’t?
Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations: It’s interesting, the protestors in Minister Vandal’s office were very, very caring Indigenous young people who over the past year have developed friendships with a lot of the people at the Unist‘ot’en Camp on the Wet’suwet’en lands and who care about the planet, who about Indigenous rights, that this was a heartfelt and sometimes tearful conversation that we had with them.
In my office, the Indigenous young people didn’t even want to sit at the same table as me, and it was the non-Indigenous allies that gave the message about the RCMP off the lands. And so, I think we’re working very hard and I think—
Mercedes Stephenson: So sorry, Minister, was this more climate justice protesters then, than it being about straight up reconciliation?
Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations: I think that they’re intertwined. I think that Indigenous rights and their rights to the land and the air and the water are in to their mind, constitutionally protected, and that that is the natural stewards of the land, but I think we also know that even within the Wet’suwet’en community, that there are differing opinions and matriarchs. There are people that are speaking up about their issues as well, but I think that it is a matter of the solution will be found in the Wet’suwet’en community as they come together with their vision of self-determination and how they can form a government and write their own laws and be—
Mercedes Stephenson: But how do you carry out reconciliation with that very real challenge of not always knowing who represents the Indigenous people on various territories?
Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations: Well I think that, Mercedes, is a very good question, but it is the nation that actually has to sort out those issues, and that’s why we are very interested. Two years ago, I was on their territory. We signed an agreement with the hereditary chiefs on child and family services, the asserting jurisdiction for their children. And now, we hope next week, to be able to get back to the table with the province of British Columbia on land and title and to be able to move that conversation even further.
Mercedes Stephenson: What do you say to people who think that your government has been hypocritical, first of all, saying that you would negotiate then stopping negotiations, or criticizing Andrew Scheer for some of the things that he said earlier this week and then taking a much harder tone on Friday that many people reflected—that thought reflected some of his tone?
Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations: Well, I think, Mercedes, at no time have we stopped negotiations. We are, you know, in terms of the conversations I had last weekend, the conversations we had with many of the hereditary chiefs on Tuesday and then on Friday. I think the interventions of Marc Miller have been very important, that after my conversation with Chief Woos, Chief Woos called back Marc Miller, that there is an ongoing conversation and we just need—that keeping the conversation open. But the removal of the police, I think, is—are these really important criteria to getting us through this difficult patch and onto a good path.
Mercedes Stephenson: Minister Bennett, thank you very much for your time.
Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, the divide within the Indigenous community. We’ll get the perspective of a former chief councillor who supports LNG projects.
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Division over natural gas and oil pipeline projects polarizes public opinion right across the country, including of course, among Indigenous communities.
Elected members of the band council of the Wet’suwet’en First Nations, support LNG, but some hereditary chiefs do not. Chief supported by the Mohawk protestors blockading rail lines. It’s all raised questions about who speaks for Indigenous communities and whether this is a key moment for reconciliation.
Joining me now from Victoria is Ellis Ross, former Chief Councillor for the Haisla First Nation and now Liberal critic for the LNG and resource portfolio. Ellis, you know, you’ve had a chance to participate in LNG projects and you believe that they’re fundamentally good for Indigenous communities. Why do you believe that?
Ellis Ross, B.C. MLA and Former Chief Councillor Haisla First Nations: Because we spent the last 15 years in environmental assessment and reviewing permits, and actually engaging in the consultation and accommodation process as laid out by the provincial federal governments, as well as with the companies themselves.
Mercedes Stephenson: And you’ve said that you don’t believe that the blockades here are actually representative of what the Wet’suwet’en people want, that you don’t believe the Wet’suwet’en people are actually behind the blockades. That’s the case when you have the hereditary chiefs who are visiting out in Ontario and Quebec, thanking the Mohawk for that. Who do you think is actually behind them?
Ellis Ross, B.C. MLA and Former Chief Councillor Haisla First Nations: That’s a really good question, because the Wet’suwet’en band members are starting to speak out now and saying that they don’t want those blockades up. They don’t want to see Canada shutdown. The elected chief and councils of those four or five communities have said that they’re not behind it, and even Aboriginals. I’m pretty sure Aboriginals across B.C. do not want to see those blockades and they don’t want to see it escalate to the point where Aboriginals actually get accosted on the streets. This is setting back reconciliation 20 years.
Mercedes Stephenson: Are you worried that if the blockades continue or if they resurface in the future that there could be violence, that this could be something that becomes very serious and physically threatening for Indigenous people?
Ellis Ross, B.C. MLA and Former Chief Councillor Haisla First Nations: Oh, it’s already happening. The Aboriginal people are already in grocery stores, getting confronted by people that just want to go to work. They don’t like to see their lives disrupted. And these average Aboriginals, they’re not political. They don’t have an opinion on pipelines or blockades and what have you, they just want to get on with their lives just like regular Canadians. So yes, I’m very concerned.
Mercedes Stephenson: So if you don’t believe the Wet’suwet’en are behind this and you believe that Indigenous people, largely back LNG project, why aren’t we hearing more of those voices speaking out right now?
Ellis Ross, B.C. MLA and Former Chief Councillor Haisla First Nations: Well, they haven’t been given a spotlight. They’re trying to have their public meetings in Houston, for example. They’re trying to go to with the social media. There are members like Candice George and there are elders from Indigenous communities that are trying to get out and talk. But basically, the major media outlets are not putting them in a spotlight. It’s just not—it just doesn’t fit the narrative.
Mercedes Stephenson: What would you advise the government to do in this situation?
Ellis Ross, B.C. MLA and Former Chief Councillor Haisla First Nations: Stop taking your advice from these leaders that are using the wrong narratives. Stop—those leaders are coming out and using the terms: colonialist, assimilated, settlers. Those are racist terms and you’re angering a lot of people. I don’t use those terms, ever. Stop using it. And that’s such a hypocritical thing to say as well. I see these leaders using those terms and yet they have bank accounts, they have good salaries. They’re driving good cars. They’ve got good RSPs, nice houses and yet, they call everybody else colonial constructs. Stop with the hypocrisy, please. That’s where we’ve got to start and get back the facts.
Mercedes Stephenson: Does that mean that you think that the police should be called in, or that the army should have been called in to clear these barricades earlier?
Mercedes Stephenson: There are people saying who do you know who to negotiate with here, because you’re saying you don’t believe that the hereditary chiefs represent what the majority of the Wet’suwet’en community want, but there are Indigenous leaders who are saying, look, the elected chiefs are imposed colonial system, they’re not legitimate. The hereditary chiefs are the tradition. They need to be at the table, and if they disagree that’s a substantial issue.
Ellis Ross, B.C. MLA and Former Chief Councillor Haisla First Nations: No, I’ve never said that the hereditary chiefs don’t represent the communities. I’ve never said that. What I’ve said was Aboriginal rights and title is a communal right. Meaning the Aboriginal rights and title belongs to the community, so it only stands to reason that the community should decide who represents them in that equation. In terms of the representation of 203 bands in B.C., every band has a different leadership structure. Some have elected, some have hereditary, some have hybrid. It’s not up to anybody to go in there and say oh, elected band councils only have jurisdiction on reserve. That is so condescending and it’s the wrong narrative to send. You’re trying to destabilize these communities and you’re trying to delegitimize the work that elected band leaders and hereditary leaders have done over the last 15 years, not only to provide jobs and employment and a way out of poverty, but also to breathe life into the word reconciliation.
Mercedes Stephenson: What about communities who have said clearly that they don’t want this on every level but they are unanimous in that, or that they clearly have a majority and both the hereditary and elected chiefs are on the same side. Do you think that there should still be natural resource projects run through those First Nations?
Mercedes Stephenson: When the government is figuring out how to move these projects forward, they have to figure out how they negotiate and who they talk to. So I’m curious about your perspective on whether a First Nation should be able to say no. Is consultation a veto?
Mercedes Stephenson: You know, it’s tough for the government to figure out who to talk to in this case, but when you’re looking at this scenario, and as you said earlier, you don’t believe that the people who are blockading the tracks represent what the Wet’suwet’en people want. Where do you think that those money and resources are coming from then?
Ellis Ross, B.C. MLA and Former Chief Councillor Haisla First Nations: If you’re fundraising in the United States and you’re bringing it over, then that’s foreign money. If you’ve actually got groups that are actually doing this kind of work in Canada here and you trace the money back over to the big foundations in America, yeah, that’s foreign money.
Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you so much for joining us.
Ellis Ross, B.C. MLA and Former Chief Councillor Haisla First Nations: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory met with the hereditary chiefs late last week, to show their solidarity. Following that meeting, I spoke to Kanenhariyo, from the Bear Clan about his show of support.
Kanenhariyo, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory: This has been a peaceful support in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people and the hereditary chiefs against an act of—a criminal act of crime against humanity, because the judge that made the injunction, made an injunction against lands that Canada doesn’t have a treaty with and doesn’t have the title to exert its sovereignty over it. And so by the RCMP entering into Wet’suwet’en territory, they invaded illegally and broke the Canadian Constitution, because the Canadian Constitution said that the Royal Proclamation of 1763 is a founding document, and that document says that they must have a treaty with Indians before they could do anything there.
Mercedes Stephenson: What do you say to people who say, though, that this is an issue for the Wet’suwet’en people to solve on their own and that the Mohawk are getting involved and speaking for another First Nation, where many people do want this pipeline to go ahead?
Kanenhariyo, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory: I don’t believe that I’ve heard any Indigenous people except for Wet’suwet’en speaking about Wet’suwet’en matters. Certainly, there’s been no statements by the Mohawks that I’m aware of, to speaking on behalf of the Wet’suwet’en. We certainly haven’t. In terms of solidarity, we are—we all, potentially, could face the similar imposition of a government—Canadian Government imposing or arbitrarily moving forward with projects, such as energy projects, without informed consent and acceptance by the hereditary governance structures that have existed here long before Canada and have the right to continue to govern in their lands.
Mercedes Stephenson: What did you make of the prime minister’s comments that he basically painted the people who were at these barricades like yourself as being on the fringe, as this protest not really being about reconciliation, but that it’s being used by others who have alternate agendas?
Kanenhariyo, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory: The solidarity action that the Mohawk people are taking is not a fringe, and a solidarity that’s being taken across the country in support of the Wet’suwet’en is not a fringe, and the illegal invasion into Wet’suwet’en territory by the RCMP is not a step towards reconciliation.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, that’s all the time we have. But thank you so much for joining us.
Kanenhariyo, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Coming up, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe led the premiers’ calls for the prime minister, to take action on the blockades. We’ll speak to the premier, next.
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, called on the prime minister last week, to talk with the provincial leaders and end the blockades.
Joining me now from Saskatoon is Premier Scott Moe. Thank you for making time for us, sir.
Scott Moe, Saskatchewan Premier: Thank you very much, Mercedes.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that Prime Minister Trudeau took too long to take this tone and to insist that the blockades had to come down?
Scott Moe, Saskatchewan Premier: Well, the prime minister has been making efforts and his ministers have been making efforts to dialogue, and I believe they will continue to make efforts to dialogue with the hereditary chiefs and those involved across Canada with these illegal blockades.
Mercedes Stephenson: What would you say to Indigenous Canadians who say this is the only way to get the government’s attention, that this is the land where the Wet’suwet’en are, is unceded land. There is not an ability for the elected council to simply make a decision, and that this is sort of the crucible moment where reconciliation can happen, but the only way to get there was through these kinds of blockades.
Scott Moe, Saskatchewan Premier: I would say take your blockades down and engage in dialogue with governments that you feel need to be dialogued with. And most certainly, I know the Government of B.C. has been open to dialogue with Indigenous communities. The Government of Canada has been open to dialogue with Indigenous communities. Us, and Saskatchewan have been very open over the course of the last number of years of not only dialoguing by engaging our Indigenous communities and people in the economy, here in the province. And the fact of the matter is, and we mustn’t forget that out of the 20 Indigenous communities along this pipeline’s route, they have been consulted with by the company and they have granted their partnership and their approval with the project as it goes.
Mercedes Stephenson: What about Indigenous Canadian leaders who say but it’s not dialogue because they’re not willing to stop construction on the pipeline and that’s one of their fundamental demands?
Scott Moe, Saskatchewan Premier: All 20 communities along that route have been engaged and have been engaged along every step of the process. That has occurred and the project has met the parameters that are in place with respect to what the province of British Columbia has in place. So, the dialogue that can happen, I would say nothing could be further from where we actually are as a nation in engaging with our Indigenous communities and our Indigenous leaders. You don’t have to break the law to have dialogue with government officials from province to province and at the federal level. That has been open, that offer has been there.
Mercedes Stephenson: I know that there are a lot of Canadians who are frustrated by these blockades, and you’ve highlighted that, but Conservative leadership candidate, Peter MacKay put out a tweet, which he later deleted, praising one person who showed up at the rail blockade near Edmonton and started taking it apart. People criticized that. They said that it encourages vigilantism. What did you make of Mr. MacKay’s tweet?
Scott Moe, Saskatchewan Premier: I didn’t see his precise tweet, although I did hear about it. Listen, the—what happened in Edmonton, while the injunction, I believe, was being put together and quite likely the law enforcement was putting together how they were going to enforce the injunction that the courts had that some of the members of the public moved in and dismantled the blockade that was there in a very non-confrontational way, for which we’re all thankful and fortunate. And I think this speaks to the patience that is not unlimited in Canadians. Not just in Edmonton but across the nation with what are increasingly, illegal actions.
Mercedes Stephenson: But Premier, does that mean that you approve of those actions of people actually going up to the barricades themselves who are not police and dismantling them?
Scott Moe, Saskatchewan Premier: No, that means I’m thankful that this was done in a non-confrontational way and there was no confrontation that took place. And I’m also thankful that the barricade was removed. But I’m also very hopeful and quite confident in the competency of our law enforcement agencies across this nation of Canada that they can, as they have proved too many times when the injunctions are filed, that they will seek to enforce those injunctions.
Mercedes Stephenson: Premier Scott Moe, thank you so much for joining us.
Scott Moe, Saskatchewan Premier: Thanks so much, Mercedes.
Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time we have for today. Thanks for joining us. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Have a great week.
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