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Kim Stanton talks to CTV about Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs

February 13, 2020

Wet’suwet’en: What’s the difference between the elected band council and hereditary chiefs?

CTV News spoke to Kim Stanton about the differences between the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the elected band council. Understanding that difference is necessary to understanding the dispute over the Coastal GasLink pipeline:

Hereditary chiefs represent different houses that make up the First Nation as a whole. Their titles are passed down through generations and predate colonization.

“The hereditary chiefs draw their authority from Wet’suwet’en law, so their law is the law that pre-exists colonization in the territory,” Kim Stanton, a lawyer at Goldblatt Partners LLP who specializes in Aboriginal law, told in a phone interview Thursday.

“The hereditary chiefs’ authority is with respect to all of their ancestral lands and those are the lands that they’re seeking to protect.”

In 1997, the Wet’suwet’en people were part of Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, which ultimately upheld Indigenous peoples’ land claims to land that had never been ceded through a treaty, which includes Wet’suwet’en Nation and much of British Columbia.

“What the chief justice of the time said was that the government should be negotiating with the hereditary chiefs to determine title and we never got around to doing that, ‘we’ being the Canadian state,” Stanton said. “The hereditary chiefs tried for decades to have their title recognized and tried using the Canadian legal system…and the Canadian legal system failed them.

It’s not surprising that they would now be in a situation where they’re having to defend their ancestral territory.”

The councils are elected by people holding the title of “Indian status” under the Indian Act, which comes with a whole host of issues, Stanton said, as the federal government can essentially determine who votes for council.

“Those registration provisions have been subject to many, many legal challenges because they are rife with discrimination and have been since they were put into effect,” she said.

Stanton added that the Indian Act further complicates things in British Columbia because much of the province was never ceded to colonization.

“The Indian Act jurisdiction has been imposed upon them without them having actually ceded their land, so it’s actually illegitimate, but the Canadian state doesn’t recognize that it doesn’t have a legal basis for its authority there,” she said.

“We’re in a situation where Canada and B.C. assume that they have jurisdiction, when in fact, they never legally got it.”

Stanton said it’s important to note that despite all 20 elected band councils agreeing to build the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a lot of the time these councils are forced into an agreement due to critical underfunding from the federal government.

“I wouldn’t say that chiefs and council entering into impact benefit agreements, for example, is necessarily an indication of unqualified support for a pipeline,” she said.

Read the whole article here.


Kim Stanton

Practice Areas

Aboriginal Law