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Protests show Canadian, Indigenous laws need reconciling

March 02, 2020

Yahoo News speaks to Kim Stanton about reconciling traditional Indigenous and Canadian laws

In a report on the recent protests over the construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia, Yahoo News spoke to Kim Stanton about the clash between Canadian colonial-era and traditional Indigenous laws.  As the news report notes, and as Kim has explained elsewhere, “Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs derive their authority from laws that predate colonization and have sought to apply it to the entirety of their ancestral territories.” Band councils, on the other hand, are responsible for only the territory within their individual reserves, which were created under the Indian Act.

The Wet’suwet’en never entered into treaties with the Crown.

As a result, “these two forms of law have come into tension with one another in a very abrupt way in the last few weeks,” said constitutional lawyer Kim Stanton.

“The hereditary chiefs are attempting to have Canadian law recognize Wet’suwet’en law and the Canadian state is saying, ‘Well, we need to enforce the rule of law,’ but is ignoring indigenous law,” she explained.

“And that is why we are seeing this eruption of protests.”

The recent unrest, both experts said, can also be traced back to 1990 when an indigenous protest against a golf course expansion on sacred Native lands in Oka, Quebec led to the shooting death of a policeman, and deployment of troops.

A Royal Commission later that decade concluded that “Canada needed a complete restructuring of its relationships with indigenous nations,” Stanton said.

Fast-forward to 2015: Trudeau came to power promising reconciliation with indigenous peoples who suffered a loss of language and culture which is blamed for gross poverty in Native communities.

The same year, a truth and reconciliation commission concluded that more than a century of abuses at boarding schools set up to assimilate indigenous peoples amounted to “cultural genocide.”

“Many, many non-indigenous people have great difficulty accepting that we are a country that has committed these terrible acts,” Stanton said.

“So we have a big disconnect in this country.”

Trudeau assigned two ministers to deal with indigenous matters, and vowed to incorporate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People into Canadian law by year’s end.

The opposition Conservatives and other critics have warned that this risks giving an unacceptable veto to indigenous peoples on resources development.

But Stanton and Papillon challenged that view, saying it would instead create a better framework for Crown-indigenous relations and help to clarify indigenous rights.

“It’s a win-win,” echoed Stanton. “Otherwise, if you roll over people’s rights, you will have the situation that we find ourselves in now.”

Read the article here.


Kim Stanton

Practice Areas

Aboriginal Law