Before you read this letter I want to bring your attention to remind readers it was John Ridsdale (Chief Namoks) who claimed to hold an “All Clans Feast” on Feb 13th 2020 that also included Taylor Bachrach who proudly spoke on that issue in the Canadian parliament. This is where both John Ridsdale and Taylor Bachrach both claim that the elders and matriarchs of all clans voted overwhelmingly in support of blocking CGL and banning them from their territory.
We questioned at that time just how many people showed up for this meeting that was in held in complete violation of Wet’suwet’en laws and protocol. The letter below was written by one of John Ridsdale’s own clan members from the Tsayu Clan, and approved for public usage by the Tsayu Clan.
This in itself is evidence that not only is John Ridsdale out of touch with the Wet’suwet’en Nation, but even with his own family clan.
The following letter was posted in the Vancouver Sun and due to its value to our readers we have copied it verbatim for educational and nonprofit use. We published this without consent or permission for the above stated use. Please read the original version linked above if you wish, if it goes missing, we will have it in our archives.
Open letter to Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs after Tsayu clan meeting
“It seems strange that the house chiefs that did most of the logging off the (Delgamuukw) ruling, and are retired from the industry, are now against a new industry helping the next generation,” Troy Young.
Updated: February 28, 2020
People of Canada,
I don’t speak for all Witsuwit’en, because our population, like any group, has different opinions with pipelines and other projects. I have permission from my clan to release this letter following the clan meeting held on February 23, 2020. I have reviewed this letter with my father clan, and listened to their words.
As the General Manager of Kyah Resources, I am for the project. I see that our house chiefs and our elected chiefs are divided, with some for, some against, and some recognizing the importance of the words that came from their house members and doing as instructed by their house.
I am Witsuwit’en, matrilineally descended from Na’Moks Lucy Holland in the Tsayu clan, with my father clan being Laksilyu. As a young teen I had the chance to sit at our kitchen table with my great-grandmother Lucy and my mother, listening as they discussed the business in our territory and what it could mean. At the time I didn’t recognize the importance of the discussions taking place. Not being brought up in Witset, I admit that I don’t speak the language or understand all the terms Lucy used as she bounced between speaking English and Witsuwit’en. What I do recall was that there was a court case, and it was necessary to gain access to our territory to provide for the people, and that’s why it was taking place. Being an entrepreneur, my mother understood the importance of Witsuwit’en having access to the general economy, and my mom supported her grandmother when she came to visit, or we visited her in Witset (formerly Moricetown).
I heard discussion of the laws from my great-grandmother, and while I’m not an expert, I did learn the basics. I am still learning from the chiefs I talk to, from my clan and my father clan. Unfortunately, I see our laws being changed or cast aside during this event in our territory, mostly to justify the actions of some of our house chiefs, who act to make the outside environmental activists that have come into our territory happy. It seems they have been manipulated to fight their fight.
We have seen three female chiefs being stripped of their name because they don’t agree with the “Hereditary Chiefs” within the society that is the Office of the Wet’suwet’en. This stripping was not done following our law. We have seen individuals be given Chief’s names that then flout our Law on many fronts. A newly named chief can’t speak for a year, yet these new chiefs have been vocal in the media. We have seen a chief break our Law by claiming a name from another house. We have seen a chief name be given to some whose parents sit together in the feast hall. We have seen adoptions across clans take place without merit or proper transfer.
Our Law states that guests have no say in “our business,” meaning the things that are taking place on our territories. This continues to be observed by many, but some guests, whether born in Wet’suwet’en territory or adopted into a house, forget that they are guests and can observe but not speak. Guests are permitted to live in the territory and take advantage of the resources provided by the territory, but they have no say on what happens within the territory. This has not been followed by some and they need to be reminded by our house chiefs that they have no say, public or private. If they want to have a say on territory, they should follow their matrilineal lines back home and conduct business at home.
Growing up, I don’t recall seeing my great-grandmother Lucy wear her regalia outside the Feast Hall. It was never seen in Fort Nelson or Vancouver at a protest. Regalia was certainly never given to a non-chief to parade down the street in protest. It was sacred, and was treated in a proper manner, not as a costume to make a dramatic impact. In the past, Dick Alec, a well-respected house chief, also did drumming and singing, while performing around the world. His proper regalia was never worn outside the feast hall, with another set of regalia designed for performing only.
The decisions seem to be taking place in Smithers at the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, a registered society created to negotiate treaty following the SCC victory. Our laws dictate that the feast hall is where decisions are made. This has not been followed, with the OW acting like a government, which they are not. Our chiefs are to meet with their house groups and do as the house group decides; they are not the decision makers. In the past the Tsayu clan representative has set up Tsayu clan meetings on a near monthly basis, and our chief has only ever showed up to the first meeting, never to meet with his clan again. How does he speak on behalf of a house group he doesn’t have time to meet with? Then the clan representative was changed, and the meetings became exclusive, with very limited notice to times and dates.
Last week, I see my house chief proclaiming in the media that an All Clans Meeting was called for the next day, and only certain people could speak. This is not our Law, our house chiefs are not our dictators. Each house chief is supposed to do what the house members agree upon and tell him through our matriarchs, elders, and wing chiefs, not tell us what we are going to do. Some chiefs have not been holding house meetings open to all, so the decision made in these meetings do not hold weight. Our chiefs don’t get to hand pick who they invite to house meeting. Each chief holds equal power in the hall, and this has been forgotten. Being the clan spokesperson doesn’t give more power over the other chiefs, and this has been forgotten.
I question Na’Moks John Ridsdale’s sincerity when he says there are “better ways to get a paycheque that will look after the environment, that will look after the water, the salmon, our culture.” This seems unrealistic because we have hundreds to employ and there are not many well-paying jobs in water monitoring or fishing.
Further, I recognize the effects of climate change, and feel that with Canada’s small population and carbon footprint, our best effort to stop or slow climate change is to eliminate the coal plants being used in Asia. B.C. natural gas will travel through our territory to the coast, on boat to Asia, where it will provide heat and cooking for the billions of people in the region. It’s not the perfect solution, but at this time, it is an excellent alternative to coal, and will reduce the Greenhouse Gas emissions from Asia. Changing the fuel sources for billions of people overseas will slow climate change more than any of the small changes we can make in Canada. A 2017 study indicates if a number of these proposed LNG projects in B.C. proceed, they could reduce global greenhouse gas by as much as 176 million tonnes annually. Research also suggests natural gas exported from LNG terminals in B.C. would largely replace coal-fired facilities in Asian countries including China. This is the equivalent of reducing Canada’s emissions by over 20 per cent, better than any target Trudeau has set.
Further to those comments, each First Nation relies on the resources in its territory. If we were in the Lower Mainland, we could thrive on land rent, but that’s not an option for Witsuwit’en people. We have natural resources such as forestry, mining, and fishing, all of which are in a downturn right now.
Tourism and high tech have been suggested, but we haven’t witnessed anyone in this area make a viable business in these sectors that would create the employment levels for Witset.
We recognize that the work isn’t permanent, but the skills learned while working at home on a world class project will allow Witsuwit’en to work on construction projects anywhere in Canada. It is the training and education that hold the real value. How many members have gone to EHO or security training, but can’t get hired because they lack experience? This project can help end this deterrent to work. How many members in our community have stopped requiring Social Assistance, working to provide for their families for the first time in generations? They should be honoured in the community, not bullied and harassed for wanting to provide better for their families.
In the UN Human Development Index, Canada is dragged down due to the conditions the First Nations live in. Cooke & Beavon (2007) indicated that Canada’s first nations people have lower life expectancy, lower education, and other key indicators of the HDI. This shows that good employment and good benefits at work create a happier, longer living, less habit-forming culture. Witsuwit’en people used to have small sawmills, businesses doing trucking, restaurants, and hotels. They were a large part of the economy in the region, and then legislation ended it. We want to become a part of the economy again; it is one of the many faces of reconciliation.
The Office of the Wet’suwet’en was started with 19 seats, thirteen for our house chiefs and six for the elected chiefs. Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa was successful in court because all our chiefs sat at the table and agreed on the necessary actions. To ensure unity for looking after our people the house chiefs and elected agreed they must act in unison to provide for the people. This has been forgotten with some house chiefs trying to extinguish the relationship with the elected chiefs.
In Delgamuukw versus British Columbia, the Supreme Court ruled the territory was unceded, governance was never established, and that the land was held for the Witsuwit’en people for when governance was established, and title and rights could be negotiated. The people are the owners, not the chiefs, whether house chiefs or elected council chiefs. Our ancestors, elders, and matriarchs fought the case to gain access to the resources so that our people could make a living of the resources from their territory.
It seems strange that the house chiefs that did most of the logging off this ruling, and are now retired from the industry, are now against a new industry helping the next generation. It is noticeable that these same house chiefs have the most educated and successful children. It proves that having good employment provides a multi-generational benefit. The elected chiefs recognize this and are pushing for employment knowing that the biggest benefit will be for the children of those working on the pipeline.
One chief complaint of some house chiefs has been that industry and government won’t talk to the OW. Now that they have been offered the opportunity, they have not taken advantage of the offer. The elected councils of Witset, Nee Tahi Buhn, Wet’suwet’en First Nation (Broman Lake), Skin Tyee, and Ts’il Kaz Koh (Burns Lake Band) all signed agreements with industry and government to provide a step to further discussions with government. The Office of the Wet’suwet’en also entered negotiation with industry and government over pipelines, but were removed by Witset because of internal disagreements over how the negotiations took place, and who was to benefit from any agreement reached. Even when Witset took over negotiations, Witset council invited the house chiefs to attend all negotiations to provide advice and counsel. The OW has prevented the chiefs from attending the negotiations under threat of removal from their paid positions.
I speak outside the Feast Hall now because some of our house chiefs have decided that only their voice matters and they are expressing it in the public. I call on all Witsuwit’en to talk to their elders, matriarchs, wing chiefs, and house chiefs to remind our house chiefs of their duties to uphold our Law, and for our house chiefs to listen. They must understand that they are chiefs so that they can carry our voice and do our bidding, they are not our dictators. They need to be reminded that they carry the name of someone who was remembered, and if they tarnish this memory, it will not be forgotten.
All Wet’suwet’en communities fought the Northern Gateway project, which was a bitumen line, and we were successful. We have been successful in Delgamuukw as well, but both of our successes come when the house chiefs and elected chiefs work together for a common goal.
United, we have an opportunity to negotiate for what we want:
- Land, title, rights, responsibilities;
- Reserve lands restored in Houston, Telkwa and Smithers;
- PNG natural gas line settlement;
- Rail line settlement;
- Alcan / Rio Tinto Kemano Reservoir settlement;
- Mine sites cleaned up throughout the territory;
- and other outstanding issues.
Witsuwit’en have wanted to get government talking, and now that the opportunity is here, some would sooner go to court. This makes no sense when we have the ability control how we negotiate; be we lose control if we let a court decide.
We have all talked about self-reliance and the need to control our future. Industry is paying our communities for access to the territory, with no control over how the money gets spent. Our leaders get to control the funds coming in to spend as their members wish, not at the behest of INAC agents. This is an important step, not having an overseer is admirable.
To be successful, we need our house chiefs and our elected chiefs to work for the betterment of all Witsuwit’en – our children, our elders, our chiefs, our matriarchs.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article.
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