The following is a contributed editorial (we added the image of the trapper cabin) As with all submissions we simply present them as is regardless of our own knowledge or views, with the only exception being if we find the content offensive we simply send it to the trash bin. That said in this case the writer put a fair bit of work into this article we find worth sharing. We did by request add emphasis where it appears in the article. We received this late in December but decided to use it as a year opener, in hopes conflicts between the Wet’suwet’en people end without the need of RCMP intervention.
Greetings, and thanks for reading.
In social media there is a well know description about ones identity where it asks about your marital status and one of the suggested answers is “It’s complicated.”
I was asked by a local group to present a written summery of Wet’suwet’en history that could explain the rifts between the Wet’suwet’en people so in every sense of the word, I have to also say “It’s complicated” That led me to do some additional studies and notes resulting in this written piece that someone told me to send to this website, so more people could read it.
Part of the blame regarding disconnect and confusion belongs to the legal system and those in it including Supreme Court judges, let me explain.
For the first time in modern history our courts allowed “hearsay” to become evidence. Do not read this as an objection, but rather an observation, more likely the discrepancies are due to a difference in recall, often the more time that passes the more recall will drift for better or worse, its simply a scientifically proven fact about human memory.
Having read all the Delgamuukw transcripts there are a large number of very obvious contradictions, but given the shear magnitude of what was being documented, it comes as no surprise, proving in fact that hearsay even here differs from one witness to another. This is not surprising as its normal for two people to remember facts differently regardless of ones genetic history, its a human error and not a cultural error.
My own two bits worth is simple, before anyone immigrated to British Columbia there were already people here, they (aboriginals) were the owners, not the immigrants, so regardless of what happened since then original ownership is a non starter as an argument, the problem now is much more complex and so does deciding what aboriginal nation gets what land, never mind the question of what non aboriginals will get, defined by survey markers is a whole new can of worms. This is why today we have blockades, its about greed and not using traditional methods of determining who should own what.
Blockades bypass diplomacy, they bypass civilized discussion, blockades are a form of violence against society, you either give us what we want or we will make your life living hell, its organized bully tactics, nothing less.
Questions that still remain outstanding is when Canada declared sovereignty over aboriginal land, nothing and nobody stood in their way, it was the way the world worked, its part of world history everywhere in the world, and one might say its wrong, others might say its right, but regardless of sides it was a norm in world history, especially prior the 1900’s. All of that history has become part of Canada’s evolution and part of who we all are as a whole. We have to find common ground and we have to be fair in how that is achieved, and it has to become a permanent end to the disputes over power and land.
One thing is certain the Delgamuukw land claims case never settled anything, it was the stage on where a settlement must begin be that legal or by negotiated settlement.
“Delgamuukw continues to represent a momentous affirmation of the existence and constitutionally protected status of Aboriginal title in Canada. It seems important, however, to underscore the fact that the Court did not rule on the merits of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en Aboriginal title claim. The effects of its decision are therefore more directive than conclusive. Delgamuukw provided government, Aboriginal claimants, and the lower courts with comprehensive new guidelines for the future settlement or litigation of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en and other comprehensive land claims.”
Note I added the emphasis to the quote.
The other issue is that when you read the Delgamuukw transcripts you become acutely aware that almost all history ends in the early 1900’s and anything beyond that in oral history is what is often tagged as time immemorial, or in short what happened in the 1800’s to 1900’s is lost and becomes assumptions. Very little oral history in regards to pre-50’s aboriginal history, most of it comes from written historians accounts, most of the testimony begins in the 60’s accumulating to the date of the trial in 1997.
The very term “time immemorial” is a bit of a scam, instead of speaking the truth, the truth becomes a gimmick, or a false flag, the truth is in fact that one personally feels that its always been that way. Or never admitting I simply do not know the facts beyond my great grandparents, has now become the assumption that guess work has been labelled as a known fact, when in fact its a assumption or ones desired wish of what history occurred. The truth is time immemorial also means we simply are guessing it was always this way, but still its guessing.
Today many outright lies and intentional myths are being circulated by the blockaders in collaboration with the Office of Wet’suwet’en.
The court did say “In Delgamuukw, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan Peoples had never surrendered their land or had their title extinguished. The decision recognized Aboriginal title“ it did NOT say “The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, are responsible for off-reserve decision-making on the nation’s 22,000 square kilometres of territory” nor did it say “The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are the sole authority of the Wet’suwet’en territory.“ It did say “Aboriginal title is sui generis, and so distinguished from other proprietary interests, and characterized by several dimensions. It is inalienable and cannot be transferred, sold or surrendered to anyone other than the Crown. Another dimension of aboriginal title is its sources: its recognition by the Royal Proclamation, 1763 and the relationship between the common law which recognizes occupation as proof of possession and systems of aboriginal law pre‑existing assertion of British sovereignty. Finally, aboriginal title is held communally.“
“Lamer said this “substantive defect” in the Chiefs’ arguments required a new trial, which the court welcomed but the Wet’suwet’en have yet to bring forward.”
Note I added the emphasis to the quote.
Before we move on see that line “Finally, aboriginal title is held communally.” this is actual evidence that the elected leadership that speaks for the community, are the actual people that the the Supreme Court of Canada recognized as the true owners of Wet’suwet’en land. Followed by another line that says. ““Lamer said this “substantive defect” in the Chiefs’ arguments required a new trial, which the court welcomed but the Wet’suwet’en have yet to bring forward.”
In a nutshell we could stop right after that paragraph, it already shows the Office of Wet’suwet’en are not, it shows the Herditary Chiefs are not, and it shows the people are the legal owners of all Wet’suwet’en land.
This brings us to the debate over who who is the authority on Wet’suwet’en territory? Clear as you can read above, the land belongs to the people, not the chiefs. The people are the final authority, meaning the bands and the community as a whole. Clearly the court did NOT grant wholesale control to the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
Having said the above we also need to say that without allowing hearsay evidence, the only Wet’suwet’en history that would exists is the writings of a few historians who were also depended largely on hearsay. Now we need to also add that hearsay and storytelling can be interchanged, it is a documented fact that the Wet’suwet’en passed on their history by way of oral communications, relating history as they recall it.
Then we have the latest historian Antonia Mills who wrote the book Eagle Down is Our Law, most of her work also centres on interviews with aboriginal members and what they recall, in as such very little of her writings include documented facts. Although one can learn lots from the book Eagle Down is Our Law one must not lose the perspective, the book was a paid research to be used as evidence to prove the Wet’suwet’en’s case. I need to point out Antonia Mills was an employee of the Wet’suwet’en legal team, and not all all a independent historian. By working for them she disqualified her claim to independence. Therefore the book was written intentionally biased towards the case of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. I am not adding this as opposition, but for clarity and integrity, so when you read the book you do so with a correct perspective.
“For something to be hearsay, it does not matter whether the statement was oral or written. Generally speaking, hearsay cannot be used as evidence at trial. The reason hearsay is barred for evidence is simple: one cannot cross examine the person who is making the statement since that person is not in court.”
In the case of the Delgamuukw trial, the judge agreed to accept oral history that included hearsay evidence.
95 The admissibility of the adaawk and kungax was the subject of a general decision of the trial judge handed down during the course of the trial regarding the admissibility of all oral histories (incorrectly indexed as Uukw v. R.,  6 W.W.R. 155 (B.C.S.C.)). Although the trial judge recognized that the evidence at issue was a form of hearsay, he ruled it admissible on the basis of the recognized exception that declarations made by deceased persons could be given in evidence by witnesses as proof of public or general rights: see Michael N. Howard, Peter Crane and Daniel A. Hochberg, Phipson on Evidence (14th ed. 1990), at p. 736. He affirmed that earlier ruling in his trial judgment, correctly in my view, by stating, at p. 180, that the adaawk and kungax were admissible “out of necessity as exceptions to the hearsay rule” because there was no other way to prove the history of the Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en nations.
That last sentence is pretty much an admission that there is no evidence (other than hearsay) that proves ownership, but we do know someone did before settlers came here.
We now have the stage set for history, understanding that it all comes from he said she said and witnessed by the people listening, who also pass it on based on purely memory.
This is where history comes dangerously fluid, at what point did we start depending on oral history, then when did we stop doing so, or did we? Can someone living today, testify to history, and will it be accepted as gospel truth? In fairness to all involved, they need to be viewed case by case, and how relevant it becomes in the instance of evidence or proof of ownership.
Somewhere in time if we are going to be honest, we need to confront the issue of oral history if we use non indigenous hearsay as an example, then are we going to suggest that aboriginal hearsay cannot be corrupted? Simply because they are aboriginal?
Having said the above it is clear that the Delgamuukw case was a starting point and not a conclusion, the court was clear on this, that to establish ownership they would have to settle with government or return to court, neither has occurred to date.
OK I will stop there as I think by now you understand my point, and we have yet to get to actual history.
At this point I will interject my own oral history here, both Rita George (Gidimt’en Clan) the great aunt of Molly Wickham and Gloria George played an instrumental role in making the Delgamuukw trial become a reality. Isn’t that odd considering the way that people who contributed nothing to that trial today appear to despise those two matriarchs. (The gang of five plus the blockaders)
Before Delgamuukw the people now known as Wet’suwet’en people were called Carrier Sekani and the term Carrier came from is described below. Let me borrow some history from Encyclopædia Britannica
“Athabaskan-speaking North American Indian tribe centred in the upper branches of the Fraser River between the Coast Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in what is now central British Columbia.
The name by which they are most commonly known derives from the custom in which widows carried the ashes of their deceased husbands in knapsacks for three years. The name Takulli (“People Who Go upon the Water”) is of obscure origin and may well be a misunderstanding of the name Dakelh. Although their original territory was significantly inland from the Pacific, traditional Carrier culture shared many of the customs of the Northwest Coast Indians.
The Carrier were semisedentary, moving seasonally between villages and hunting and fishing camps. Southern Carrier people lived in semisubterranean houses; northern Carrier people made gabled houses of poles and planks, much like those of their coastal neighbours. Both types of dwellings were communal.”
OK the above was Carrier, now below we will steal a quote from Wikipedia on who the Sekani people are.
Sekani or Tse’khene are a First Nations people of the Athabaskan-speaking ethnolinguistic group in the Northern Interior of British Columbia. Their territory includes the Finlay and Parsnip River drainages of the Rocky Mountain Trench. The neighbors of the Sekani are the Babine to the west, Dakelh to the south, Dunneza (Beaver) to the east, and Kaska and Tahltan, to the north, all Athabaskan peoples. In addition, due to the westward spread of the Plains Cree in recent centuries, their neighbors to the east now include Cree communities.
Most studies indicate that prior to the fur trade the people moved based on survival needs, moving to where the food was in abundance. It was only after 1862 that there was a need or a desire to be involved in the fur trade, this in turn triggered a need for trapping territory. (Mapped Land) It is only logical that the lands now being claimed are being done so based on trap lines. It also resulted in an end to constant need to move based on hunting and fishing.
Without exception if you read all the Delgamuukw transcripts (we did) everyone who testified talked about their connection to certain plots of land based on trap lines.
Example: From the testimony given by Warner William
On page 13 Warner identifies that he and others have designated trap lines in the Morice River area, and if anyone trespassed, you simply shoot them. (Cold blooded murder for trespassing) We are talking about after 1964 here, not 100 years or more ago. On the same page he narrates about a game warden, so were talking recent days not ancient history.
This was a time when the fur trade peaked in value, trapping was a lucrative living during that time, and trespassers were stealing your income. So it was much more about the fur trade from settlers than it was about the land itself. Watch how repeatedly they refer to registered trap lines.
Page 17 refers to the boundary between Knedebeas and Gyologyet trap line territories, again we are talking about modern history, in the 1960’s
So from here we need to understand why the need for a new nation when basically in modern history we already know that the Wet’suwet’en people, and the Lake Baine Band and pretty much every aboriginal from Burns Lake thorough to Hazelton were all part of one nation, that of the Carrier Sekani Nation.
As best as I could guess, because I was not on the team that determined the best strategy to follow, was that it was about control on money. Prior to Delgamuukw many of the people not living in Moricetown (Witset) complained that once Witset has the money little ever flowed out to the other communities. It was a well-known complaint, how factual is also left to hearsay.
Aside from money there is the issue of overlapping land claims and the direction chosen not by the chiefs who testified at the Delgamuukw trial, but by the new generation led by John Ridsdale who chose conflict, blockades and protests in order to avoid having to deal with overlapping land claims.
By not negotiating for land, and creating havoc all across Canada, so far seems to be an excellent way to take land away from other First Nations while pretending that Goliath aka Colonialism is the Government of Canada. Everything they do today is blame the RCMP, its all about being the victims of violence, victims of genocide and for what reason? To cover up where they spent millions of dollars and now have no funds to fight land claims in the same arena all other First Nations are doing it in. Would it be far fetched to say the Office of Wet’suwet’en has squandered over 30 million dollars since it was founded? Look at their fleet of vehicles (all gas powered by the way) look at the fancy clothing, jackets, vests they gift themselves.
To cover up that they are trying to steal land from their fellow Carrier Sekani members.
Lamer C.J. allowed the appeal in part, dismissed the province’s cross-appeal, and ordered a new trial. He explicitly did not encourage a resumption of litigation, however, advising the parties to settle their dispute through negotiations instead. In the Chief Justice’s view, “[t]hose negotiations should also include other aboriginal nations which have a stake in the territory claimed. Moreover, the Crown is under a moral, if not a legal, duty to enter into and conduct those negotiations in good faith.” Negotiated settlements “with good faith and give and take on all sides” would, he concluded, achieve the reconciliation purpose of subsection 35(1) (par. 186).
Without question when it comes to control and power almost none of it filters out to the remaining Wet’suwet’en Nation and the Office of Wet’suwet’en pretty much dictates who is and who is not a Hereditary Chief, excluding everyone outside of their inner circle. The video below is an example, even if it is a poor quality, but what is said is clear. In particular the speech regarding inclusiveness of all Wet’suwet’en people, watch and listen closely. Start at the 1:30 mark and note Premier John Hogan was in attendance but the most important message comes from the Beaver Clan at around the 4 minute mark.
It’s no secret, it’s been talked about at a number of feast hall gatherings that those members east of Witset are being left out, and when the Office Chiefs do reach out with BC Taxpayers Dollars they make it clear they want to serve the entire nation as long as they never challenge any decision or desire to share power.
The current Hereditary Chiefs have become their own Ivy League dictating that they are the power supreme, and even previous criminal convictions do not seem to matter. No longer is there a need to be a Hereditary Chief without shame hanging over their title.
The one issue that is certain, that before any land claims are settled, that it must give a fair share to all First Nations people east and north of the Office of Wet’suwet’en. It must include all Hereditary Chiefs including those outside of the Ivy League, meaning that recognition of the three Theresa Tait-Day, Gloria George & Darlene Glaim be fully restored with apologies from the Ivy League, and include all those Wet’suwet’en Chiefs now not recognized east of the Office of Wet’suwet’en.
"Now you know the rest of the story"
brought to you by
In the event we are using copyrighted material, we are doing so within the parameters of the Fair Dealing exception of the Canadian Copyright Act.
See our Copyright Notice
Small comment, perhaps a correction. Antonia Mills was studying reincarnation, and was awarded a two year fellowship to study the Gitxsan & Wet’suwet’en people in 1985 and 1986. This article makes it appear that she was hired by the Wet’suwet’en to do this study. I think it was a purely academic exercise which provide critical evidence for the Wet’suwet’en chiefs to use in their case.
One further point is that this narrative would be far more compelling if the author would identify themselves. I appreciate in a small community such as the Wet’suwet’en this brings certain risks. But anonomous articles lack weight. I realize it is a very personal decision, but I would encourage the author to come forward. It will help their desire to end this conflict
Antonia Mills was hired by the legal team, and as such was denied the right to testify as an expert witness. I recall its part of one of the documents, but would have to dig to find it, I am sure its there. Unfortunately most Gitxsan & Wet’suwet’en know how many of them suffered slashed tires, keyed cars, I fully understand that so many knowledgeable people would be apprehensive about using their own name in public. We even sustained death threats for daring to post what we do.
“Most notably, she was hired by the Gitxsan and Witsuwit’en Tribal Council to write an expert report and testify in their favour in a landmark lawsuit to stop clear-cut logging on their lands. It resulted in a favourable judgment by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997.4 The report was published in book form as Eagle Down Is Our Law: Witsuwit’en Law, Feasts, and Land Claims in 1994.5
Mills has four children and six grandchildren.”
Thanks for the clarification. Good news on the protesters living the drill pad today. Will look forward to hearing more about it