People who oppose the Wet’suwet’s struggle often bring back the same opinions, which do not always reflect reality. The purpose of this article is to provide a rationale for addressing these opinions.

Myth #1: Indigenous people signed treaties, so they surrendered their land

Many of these treaties were not signed by the people themselves. Indigenous people were under tutelage for a very long time, often by the Catholic Church. For example, the territory of Kanehsatà:ke was given to the Sulpician Fathers in 1717 by the Governor of New France, with the mission of managing the land for the benefit of the indigenous people. This land, initially 165 square kilometers, was sold off parcel by parcel over the years, sometimes in the face of great resistance from the local Kanyen’kehà:ka (Mohawk) Nation. By 1956, only 6 square kilometers remained of the original territory granted by the French Governor [1]. The people of Kanehsatà:ke got nothing from the multiple sales of these lands and received no compensation. In the end, the sales only served to enrich the church.

Canada is not complying to some of the treaties that it signed itself. For example, the Haldimand Proclamation is a treaty between the British Crown and the Kanyen’kehà:ka people in compensation for their support during the American War of Independence and their subsequent expulsion from the United States. Signed by the Governor of Quebec in 1784, the treaty gave the Kanyen’kehà:ka over 2200 square kilometers of land around the Kenhionhata:tie River (known by its colonial name of Grand River) [2].

The Canadian government’s non-compliance with this treaty culminated in the mobilization of 1492 Landback Lane, a blockade of a proposed housing development in the Haldimand Tract, the space granted to the Kanyen’kehà:ka under the Haldimand Treaty [3].

The Wet’suwet’en have not signed any treaty with the government. The 1997 Delgamuukw decision of the Supreme Court of Canada determined that the Canadian colonial government had no rights to the Wet’suwet’en territory. The Canadian colonial government argued that Indigenous rights were unilaterally abolished with the founding of the Canadian confederation in 1867, which the court invalidated [4]. Wet’suwet’en children, however, were forced to attend residential school like the children of other Indigenous peoples, despite the fact that the nation had never signed a treaty regarding the surrender of their territory or political autonomy [5].


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Myth #2: The majority of Wet’suwet’en Band Council Chiefs have signed an agreement with CGL

Band Councils are the structure imposed by the Canadian colonial state on Indigenous people. Band Council elections are restricted to those with “Indian” status, as defined by the Canadian colonial state. For example, women who married non-Indigenous people lost their “Indian” status, as did their children. Band council elections are also controlled by the Canadian colonial state, which can, for example, refuse the candidacy of a person who opposes its politics [1].

In reality, the will of an Indigenous people is reflected by their hereditary chiefs. Prior to the arrival of settlers, Indigenous people had their own systems of governance. These systems were much more democratic than the colonial hereditary monarchy of the time, and even much more democratic than many of our current elections. It is notable, for example, that the Wet’suwet’band council chiefs approve of the pipeline, but the hereditary chiefs oppose it [2]. This strongly suggests that the imposed band council structure is designed to carry out the decisions of the Canadian colonial government, not the will of the land rights holders

There is no consent in an unequal power relationship. Recent discussions surrounding the #MeToo movement have demonstrated that in a situation of power, consent is not valid. In a relationship where Indigenous peoples have been forced onto tiny reservations in often barren lands, the only option left is either to leave the reservation and lose their legal “Indian” status, or to sign unfavorable agreements to avoid starvation [3]. Until 1960, government agents could refuse to allow an “Indian” to leave the reservation [4], even temporarily. Even today, the last wills and testaments of Indigenous people must be approved by the Ministry [5].


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[5] Ibid., pages 46-47.

Myth #3: Blockades are unnecessary because they hurt workers more than governments

The oil industry must essentially disappear. Within a few years, it is imperative that most of our energy come from renewable sources that do not produce greenhouse gases. By refusing to act, governments are forcing affected populations, often indigenous, to react. And workers who see their jobs threatened are blaming indigenous people rather than governments. Eventually, we will have to figure out how to feed everyone without the need for fossil fuels [1].

Legal remedies take decades to achieve. The Delgamuukw decision is a good example. The Wet’suwet’en people filed a court case in 1984, denouncing the British Columbia government’s clear-cutting of Wet’suwet’en territory. The Wet’suwet’en people had to wait until 1997, thirteen years later, before the Supreme Court ruled in their favour [2]. Thirteen years is a long time, especially when you see your forests being cut down constantly. And for a pipeline, the situation is even more urgent: it only takes a fraction of a second for an accident to occur and have irreversible consequences.

Governments do not keep their promises. A good example is the Restigouche raid in 1981. The government gave the Mi’kmaw a right to fish for their livelihood, but when overfishing by white settlers began to threaten salmon stocks, the government cracked down... on indigenous people [3]. It was not until 1999, eighteen years later, that the Marshall decision finally ruled that the Mi’kmaw have the right to do... what the government had promised them they would be allowed to do [4]. The same can be said for the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement of 1975. Indigenous people accepted a loss of sovereignty in exchange for more power over decisions made in their territories: this promise proved to be meaningless when Indigenous people realized that the promised decision-making positions were symbolic and without real power [5].

It is difficult for a minority forced to live in a tiny territory to make its voice heard in the public square. No one likes to do these blockades: it is hard and draining work, resulting in multiple arrests with long-term legal, mental and physical consequences. It is therefore a mechanism of last resort for a minority that has little voice in the media, that struggles to be heard, and especially to be understood [6].


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Myth #4: Natural gas is needed to transition away from coal

The entire life cycle of natural gas must be analyzed. It is true that burning natural gas produces fewer greenhouse gases than burning coal. However, the natural gas that CGL is trying to move into Wet’suwet’en territory comes from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). This approach involves injecting a large amount of liquid under the ground, forcing the gas to escape. Some of the gas is captured and transported, but a significant proportion escapes from other fractures. Natural gas has a stronger greenhouse potential than CO2. Recent analyses indicate that natural gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing is up to 20% worse than coal, when looking at its full life cycle [1]

There is no guarantee that this gas will replace a coal- fired power plant. While wealthier Western countries are gradually closing down their coal-fired power plants, this is not the case elsewhere in the world. The explosion in the need for electricity to run today’s capitalist economy is forcing developing countries to expand their electricity production, which unfortunately often involves coal [2]. It is therefore highly likely that the gas transported by CGL will not replace a coal-fired power plant, but rather adds to the world’s production of greenhouse gases.

Why make indigenous people pay for our environmental mistakes? It is clear that the actions of the colonial powers in the last century will lead us straight into a wall. It is inevitable that we will soon have to make radical changes in our lifestyles, if we want to ensure our survival. But these changes must be made by EVERYONE: It would be unacceptable to make the less fortunate, or the indigenous populations, pay for our energy transition [3].


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Myth #5: Indigenous people receive a lot of money from the government and should not bite the hand that feeds them

First and foremost, the amounts that are paid are insignificant compared to the value that has been stolen from them since the beginning of colonization and that has allowed the accumulation of so-called national wealth.

The amounts paid are not as high as one might think. The monetary compensations related to the various treaties are often very modest, have not been indexed over the years, or are limited to a specific period of time. For example, Treaty #8, signed in 1899 with the Eeyou (Cree), Dane-zaa and Chipewyan populations, pays a compensation amount of $1 per year per family [1]. Not even enough to ride the bus!

Many compensations are not paid at all. The various levels of government tend to challenge to the end any court decision that asks for compensation to be paid to an indigenous people. The most recent case is the government’s refusal to compensate victims of residential schools [2]. Similarly, the Catholic Church, which is involved in the residential school system and in the tutelage of many indigenous peoples, refuses to pay court-imposed compensation and prefers to pursue legal action against them [3].

Much of the money does not reach the affected populations, but is instead diverted by the colonial band councils. The best example is the formation of the band council on the Akwesasne reservation in 1899 by the RCMP. When the reservation rose up against the annexation of its territory, the police occupied it, murdered one of the traditional leaders, and forcibly imposed their own pro- annexation band council [4]. This situation has not improved today, as several colonial band councils are suspected or even charged in court with corruption [5].

The cost of living on reservations is often much higher than it is in settler towns and villages. While there is a lot of misleading propaganda about “doing too much for the Indians” [6], one must remember that everything costs more in remote areas. For example, to bring a teacher, to lodge them, and to bring them back home costs more in Nunavut than in Montreal. Similarly, $1 paid in Montreal does not have the same purchasing power as $1 paid in Kuujjuaq. As a result, food in Nunavut costs three times as much as in the rest of the country, a fact that is not taken into account when compensatory amounts are paid [7]. In addition, the multiple moratoria imposed on traditional means of survival, such as hunting and fishing means that many communities are dependent on food sent from the south.


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[6] For example, the Fraser Institute, with its extreme right-wing economic tendencies, publishes many publications that are highly critical of the amounts paid to indigenous peoples. This institute is very often quoted in the mainstream media.