COLUMN: Not an expert on First Nations government structures? Then maybe you should calm down

Consider your knowledge about First Nations governance structures before getting really, really mad

Please read this slowly, before you begin assaulting your keyboard: Calm. The. Heck. Down.

Yes. People are protesting about things. Yes, they may be wrong. Maybe, they’re even very wrong. Maybe their tactics are wrong too. Sure.

You, Adult Human Being, do not need to go onto Facebook and tell someone you don’t know and have never met to go F—- themselves. You definitely don’t need to suggest people start throwing bombs, as I saw one keyboard fanatic do. You don’t need to say you would run a person over if they are in front of your car. You don’t even – and this may be tough to hear – have to suggest that those demonstrating are idiots or paid protesters or hypocrites.

It shouldn’t be all that surprising that, in cities with tens and hundreds of thousands of people, some have come to a different conclusion about a very complex situation. And yet here we are, with folks on social media boldly proclaiming their willingness to engage in all sorts of violent crime and otherwise hurling unkind abuse left and right.

It’s not just those folks upset about people waving signs or blocking roads. Certain demonstrators – and this seems stupid to type but, I guess we have to do it now – shouldn’t start trying to stage “citizen arrests” of politicians at their own homes.

If this all seems a lot to ask, maybe we should first consider how much we actually know about First Nations governance structures before hitting the ol’ comment section.

Because here’s the thing that’s pretty clear at this point: the people who know this issue most intimately – the Wet’suwet’en – are divided about who speaks for their community as a whole, and how they exercise that authority. The whole thing is almost impossible to sort out not because of anything they have done, but because Canadian governments put in place governance structures that don’t actually match the communities.

Some people are clearly in favour of the project. Others are clearly against. None of us outsiders – and many in the community, it appears – can actually say for sure just how much “social licence” the pipeline project really has in the community. Hell, one Indigenous writer, Robert Jago, pointed out this week that we don’t even really know just how many hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs there are.

For the average person, myself included, that should be a tip-off that sincere thought and learning is necessary. Few of us have a sufficient grasp on the jurisdiction of different branches and forms of First Nations government. That inevitably goes for a chunk of those demonstrating. It also goes for almost everybody yelling about this online.

You maybe have been inconvenienced by a blockade or demonstration. You may have read a couple articles. Your knowledge is limited and, especially if you live in southern British Columbia, your pain is pretty darn minor. So settle down.

That’s not to say you can’t have an opinion. You have every right to proclaim it, or to wave a sign. You can certainly suggest governments could be handling this better. But maybe you shouldn’t be quite so confident in yourself and your opinion as to yell insults at someone else who is also expressing their opinion.

Certainly, if you don’t know which level of government plows Highway 1 or is responsible for health care in B.C., you might also not have the knowledge to determine who has popular legitimacy in a place you probably still can’t find on a map.

Only one thing, really is clear: it’s time for this nation’s leaders to sort out a mechanism to ensure that Indigenous people have adequate and clear representation that reflects their contributions to this country so we don’t have to relive painful and unclear battles about “consultation” over and over again. I don’t know how you do so. But you have to talk about it and you have to be willing to sacrifice.

Canada’s governments – including the current one – have consistently put off real change because it didn’t seem like a priority at the time. Maybe the Wet’suwet’en situation is the push they finally need.

Meanwhile, if you’re still really, really, really mad about all these demonstrations, here’s a 10-hour-long video of the ocean. Watch it for a while.

Tyler Olsen is a reporter at the Abbotsford News

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
tolsen@abbynews.com


@ty_olsen
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