By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
Two weeks after crown prosecutors in British Columbia dropped civil and criminal charges against 22 protesters arrested in February for defying a court injunction against blocking pipeline construction crews on Wet’suwet’en territory, the Catholic bishops and Indigenous elders in the Our Lady of Guadalupe Circle are telling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to get on with the job of reconciliation by employing a more spiritual approach to dialogue.
“More progress needs to be made across the country in practical implementations of First Nations’ rights and title over their lands and traditional territories,” said a June 21 letter to Prime Minister Trudeau from the Guadalupe Circle.
Throughout February Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, supported by protesters across the country, were locked in a legal and political struggle against the federal and British Columbia governments and Coastal GasLink Pipeline Ltd. over whether Coastal GasLink had a legitimate right to push through a pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory. The protests brought much of Canada’s economic activity to a standstill through blockades of rail transport after Coastal GasLink had negotiated a deal with the elected band councils along the pipeline route and on that basis began construction.
By May 14, 2020, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs had signed a memorandum of understanding with provincial and federal government representatives that defines Wet’suwet’en sovereignty over land and shared jurisdiction over land use planning, resources, water, wildlife, fish and child and family wellness, among other issues.
If governments want to avoid confrontations, legal battles and blockades, they need to take a more spiritual approach to dialogue, said Wikwemikong First Nation elder and Guadalupe Circle co-chair Rosella Kinoshameg.
“It’s having that respectful dialogue — like the attitude of respecting each other’s thoughts and views,” said Kinoshameg.
For Indigenous people, dialogue can only take place in a spiritual context, she said.
“God is always part of our conversation,” said Kinoshameg. “We’re not going to be doing things on our own. We always pray… So it may take a little longer, because we don’t want to rush into things and then not have it go right.”
“Such a spiritual approach, with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework, will also help to build a common public understanding of Indigenous and treaty rights,” said the letter co-signed by Keewatin-Le Pas Archbishop Murray Chatlain.
How Canada’s government conducts dialogue with treaty partners should matter to all Canadians, Kinoshameg said.
“Everybody should be aware and have that respect, even if they have no part of it or they’re not in contact (with Indigenous people),” she said. “But to be respectful of those things, not just in words but by actions, I think it’s good that we take these things up.”