Protest stunts distract from real efforts

While elected aboriginal leaders struggle against poverty, outside gas pipeline protesters play to urban media

Victoria anarchist and veteran protester Zoe Blunt (right) with friends at the Unist'ot'en camp.

Victoria anarchist and veteran protester Zoe Blunt (right) with friends at the Unist'ot'en camp.

“I am tired of managing poverty.”

The words of Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam were quoted by both Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad and Premier Christy Clark at their second annual meeting with aboriginal leaders around the province.

In her closing remarks, Clark repeated her aim to continue economic development and resource revenue sharing that have dominated the government’s approach in recent years.

“Let’s eliminate poverty in First Nations communities,” she said, adding “the only way we can fight poverty is to grow the economy.”

Not surprisingly, Clark’s chosen example was the potential of liquefied natural gas development for the Haisla Nation near Kitimat.

That and similar proposals require new gas pipelines. And as is customary in B.C., what people most often hear about are threats and wild claims regarding protests such as the Unist’ot’en camp near Smithers, set up to block a gas pipeline.

There was a round of this in late August, after Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the militant Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs claimed hundreds of RCMP officers were about to descend on the camp. This echoed previous false claims made by self-styled anarchists such as Victoria’s Zoe Blunt, who has been organizing outside support for the camp for the last couple of years.

(Blogger Greg Renouf has tracked the activities of this camp, and followed Blunt’s other exploits for years.)

Media jumped at the prospect of another Gustafson Lake-style confrontation. This prompted an unusual statement from Cpl. Janelle Shoihet of the North District RCMP.

“To clarify, the B.C. RCMP has no intention of ‘taking down the camp’ set up by the Unist’ot’en,” she said, emphasizing that police are not taking sides or acting as security for pipeline exploration crews being harassed by protesters, who have token support from a couple of dissident members of a Wet’suwet’en clan.

Four elected chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en issued their own statement, to correct media coverage that represents the Unist’ot’en as speaking for their communities.

“Our Nations support responsible resource development as a way to bring First Nations out of poverty and bring opportunities for our young people,” said Burns Lake Band Chief Dan George.

Wet’suwet’en First Nation Chief Karen Ogen said job and benefit agreements for the Coastal GasLink pipeline were entered into after careful consideration, and she objected to protests from outsiders, some from outside the country.

“Sustainability means standing on our own two feet, providing our young people with good paying jobs, and reducing the 40 to 60 per cent unemployment we now experience,” Ogen said.

Haisla Nation Chief Councillor Ellis Ross has no time for crude oil projects, but he has been working towards gas-related development as long as anyone.

Ross spoke out in support of the elected Wet’suwet’en chiefs in their efforts to resolve the dispute with Unist’ot’en members.

“Opposition is the easiest job in the world,” he said. “What is difficult is finding an answer when a First Nations mother has concerns about her child’s future.

“Politicians are quick to shout out sound bites and get into camera shots, but where are the cameras when another First Nations member takes their own life or when they pass away from highway/alcohol related deaths?”

Ross noted that recent court decisions have put B.C. aboriginal leaders in the best position they have ever had, with governments and development project proponents coming to them “with inclusion in mind” after decades of resource development that has passed them by.

You wouldn’t know it most days, but First Nations along both the Coastal GasLink and Pacific Trails gas pipelines have agreed to them.

More aboriginal leaders are getting tired of managing poverty, and misguided protesters.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

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