It is a grim irony that a Liberal government elected on a promise of renewing relations with First Nations based on “trust, respect and the true spirit of co-operation” is now being accused by some Indigenous chiefs in British Columbia of provoking a new Oka crisis.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, believes Justin Trudeau’s promise to build the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion ignores the inherent right of Indigenous people to free, prior and informed consent for resource projects.
“If the federal government tries to ram through the pipeline, it could mean going back to one of the darkest times in modern Canadian history: the Oka stand-off with the Mohawk Nation,” he wrote this week in an opinion article in the Globe and Mail, invoking the violent conflict that took place in Quebec in 1990 and that still makes federal politicians break out in cold sweats.
Indigenous leaders in B.C. who support the pipeline say the prospect of another Oka is real. “That’s one of my biggest fears,” said Keith Matthew, a former chief of the Simpcw First Nation in the central interior of B.C.
“There are threats and intimidation that mean a lot of Aboriginal leaders are afraid to speak up. It’s not politically correct to say, ‘I support economic development,’” said Ellis Ross, a Liberal MLA in Victoria and a former chief councillor of the Haisla Nation.