Horgan and Trudeau must change course to avoid prolonged civil unrest

The B.C. government’s actions do not match its words on reconciliation and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Photo: Province of BC
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The ruling New Democrats made history in October, when B.C. became the first province in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). They have now failed one of the first tests of the new legislation.

The current crisis was sparked by police action right under the nose of the B.C. government against the land defenders opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline in Wet’suwet’en territory. The RCMP actions have angered many Indigenous people, and not just in B.C.

The first day of the new session for the provincial government was overshadowed by a days-long camp out on the legislature’s front steps led by Indigenous youth in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en.

This is certainly not a good sign for Premier John Horgan and his minority government. The NDP is in office with the support of the Greens, who are likely to seek another election within the next year.

This past week’s events have also triggered ugly memories of unwanted police action in 1995 under the NDP government of the day to stop Indigenous Peoples from performing their sun dance ceremony at Gustafsen Lake.

Any hope of narrowing the widening gulf between the B.C. government and Indigenous nations was dashed with the arrests of the land defenders in Wet’suwet’en territory.

If Horgan really meant to implement UNDRIP in both letter and spirit, he needs to stop both Site C and Coastal GasLink.

These developments come in the wake of the United Nations Committee on Racial Discrimination asking the Canadian government to abandon three controversial projects, including the Coastal GasLink pipeline. And the RCMP arrests came just days after the Federal Court of Appeal had dismissed the case of a number of Indigenous nations against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Whereas the B.C. NDP and government have been opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, they lacked the political will to bury the controversial Site C dam project in the Peace River region.

Horgan shocked Indigenous communities on International Human Rights Day in December 2017, just months after coming into office, by announcing his decision to give a green light to Site C, which had been started by the previous pro-corporate and right-wing B.C. Liberal government.

At the heart of both issues is the lack of informed consent from Indigenous communities.

Taken together, these events reflect very poorly on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Horgan. Considering that both leaders represent progressive political ideologies and were expected to do a much better job of preventing conflict and winning over the confidence of Indigenous nations that continue to face structural racism, it is heartbreaking to see Indigenous people being again forced to take to the streets.

If Horgan really means to implement UNDRIP in both letter and spirit, he needs to stop both Site C and Coastal GasLink from going ahead. Likewise, Trudeau, who has made apologies for the injustices of colonialism suffered by Indigenous nations, needs to get real and deal with the situation we are all in right now.

If Horgan and Trudeau don’t change course, they will go down in history as leaders who faked tears and hugs but never sincerely tried to address the issues of Indigenous nations or truly attempted to see the world around them through their lens.

We don’t need to remind them that Indigenous nations, who are the real stewards of the land and water, have a far better sense of how to steer Mother Earth out of our climate emergency.

Canada needs to give leadership to Indigenous Peoples instead of imposing on them more of the same old top-down, so-called development, complete with RCMP tactical units arresting land defenders.

Unless Trudeau and Horgan have a major change of heart and of direction, we are surely heading for a long period of civil unrest.

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