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

Wet suwet en: What s the difference between the elected band council and hereditary chiefs?
TORONTO -- Protests across the country in support of the Wetsuweten hereditary chiefs have prompted questions surrounding the difference between these chiefs and elected band councils -- and the answer is complicated.

Essentially, the hereditary chiefs oversee the management of traditional lands and their authority predates the imposed colonial law, which formed the elected band council.

While the band council is in support of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, the hereditary chiefs are not.

(The band council has) done their due diligence and they want to be part of this economic initiative, create jobs for their people, be part of the economy, and they balanced the environment and the economy, National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations told CTVs Power Play earlier this week.

In the ancestral territory lands of the Wet suwet en peoples, its the hereditary chiefs and their clans and their big houses that have the jurisdiction, Bellegarde added. Thats the piece thats missing, so when Coastal GasLink and governments come in, they didnt bring the Wet suwet en nation and the proper people in place to deal with their ancestral lands.

Anti-pipeline protests in support of the hereditary chiefs have halted train routes, ferry ports and busy intersections across the country since late last week.

In Victoria, B.C., protesters blocked government officials and media members from entering the British Columbia legislature on Tuesday ahead of the provincial governments throne speech. A day later, British Columbia Premier John Horgan acknowledged the sometimes confusing nature of the two distinct groups.

Theres a misunderstanding broadly of what hereditary leadership is and were working hard to figure that out with the Wet suwet en and others, he told reporters.


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

In 1997, the Wetsuweten 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 Wetsuweten Nation and much of British Columbia.

The Delgamuukw decision made it abundantly clear that there was a government structure in pace on Wetsuweten territory; what it did not make clear is what that meant going forward, Horgan said.

We need to find the re-emergence of the traditional government structures that were seeing most prominently in Wetsuweten territory exist in other jurisdictions and other nations around British Columbia.


On the other hand, elected band councils -- as the title suggests -- are elected members of the community.

These councils were the result of the Indian Act, which was first established in 1876 and defined how the Canadian government interacts with Indigenous people. They were formed to impose a leadership structure that more resembled Canadas system of governance.

They dont have the authority under the Indian Act to make decisions on traditional territory, Pam Palmater, an Indigenous lawyer and the chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, told CTVs Power Play on Thursday.


While it appears the demonstrations could last for the foreseeable future, Bellegarde believes its best if the Wet suwet en people are left to resolve their differences on their own.

What weve got to encourage right now, to resolve this, is to make sure the Wet suwet en peoples themselves get together, he said. Get together into their long houses, their big houses, and have the feasts and the ceremonies and have their laws and traditions govern how this is resolved.

Horgan agreed with Bellegarde that the most effective approach might be to just let the Wetsuweten work it out amongst themselves.

Ive heard them say it repeatedly that: We need to come together as Wetsuweten people to figure that out, he said.
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