A Facebook post from a B.C. NDP MLA has raised more questions about the role of band councils and hereditary chiefs in B.C. First Nations.
North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice posted on the social media platform on Thursday that the band council system has the “historic intention of annihilating Canada’s First Peoples.”
“It’s important to know that Indigenous people have indigenous laws that go back thousands of years. The elected band council system is a colonial construct with the historic intention of annihilating Canada’s First Peoples,” reads the comment in its entirety.
“Provincial and federal governments typically work with elected governance systems. Today, we have to recognize, respect and work with both systems.”
The NDP has promised an improved working relationship with B.C. First Nations and a commitment towards reconciliation. The B.C. government has also promised to fully recognize the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
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Rice’s comment was written in response to a post by the B.C. government following Premier John Horgan’s press conference on Wednesday. Horgan was speaking to reporters about the arrests of 14 people at a First Nations barricade and checkpoint in Wet’suwet’en territory.
The blockade was in place to stop the construction of a Coastal GasLink pipeline that is set to move natural gas to a LNG Canada facility being constructed in Kitimat.
The Wet’suwet’en elected band council is in favour of the LNG Canada project but there are hereditary chiefs in the First Nation who are opposed.
During the press conference, Horgan made multiple comments about the role of band councils and hereditary chiefs.
“And the challenge for government, federal and provincial, is determining how we bring together these historic band councils modelled with, as I understand it, the emerging hereditary model that’s very much manifesting itself in Wet’suwet’en territory,” Horgan said in one instance.
In response to criticisms about that statement, Horgan says what he was intending to refer to was “the traditional, long-standing and now ‘re-emerging hereditary model,’ in contrast to the Indian Act band council model imposed in the 19th century.”
“In the premier’s view, it is the mutual responsibility of all governments to shift their relationships and arrangements with Indigenous peoples to one that is based on recognition for and support of implementation of their right to self-determination, including the inherent right of self-government for Indigenous nations,” reads a government press release.
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Liberal MLA Ellis Ross has taken exception to Rice’s comments. The former Haisla Nation chief councillor says the NDP is setting back relationships with Indigenous communities and the comments added to that.
“Just yesterday was the worst,” Ross said on Focus BC on Global’s BC1. “I was on council for 14 years and I didn’t have any intention of destroying Native people.”
The provincial government said that LNG Canada was able to proceed with its project because they had agreements with all 20 band councils along the pipeline route. But one of the issues raised by the blockade is that getting band council approval may not be enough anymore.
Ross says it is up to the people in the First Nation community to decide how they want to be governed.
“When you talk to the people who voted in their own band councils, they agreed with their band councils,” Ross said.
“I’m saying the community has to decide who represents them.”