Open letter from students, faculty and staff regarding the Wet’suwet’en

Image by Jason Hargrove, cropped (CC BY-ND 2.0)

UBC Geography respects that its students, faculty members, and staff members hold a broad range of personal views on a variety of topics. The following open letter, regarding the dispute between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and Coastal Gas Link, has been signed by a significant number of students, faculty members, and staff members in the Department of Geography. It is not an institutional statement and, as stated in the letter itself, is intended to represent the personal views of the undersigned only. It is being released after considerable reflection and discussion.

First, we begin with the recognition of the inherent legal right of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to govern their traditional territories in accordance with their own laws. One of the most important legal cases on Aboriginal title in Canada was the Supreme Court of Canada’s Delgamuukw case, in which the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en (along with the Gitxsan) were among the plaintiffs. In the Delgamuukw decision, the Supreme Court recognized the need to reconcile colonial and Indigenous legal orders, defined Aboriginal title, and also concluded that it is the hereditary chiefs who are the rights holders on their traditional territories. Today, in accordance with Wet’suwet’en law (which invokes a responsibility to protect lands and waters from harm), the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are peacefully defending their traditional territories, which remain unceded.

Second, we are deeply concerned by the escalation of force, militarized police action, and recent arrests by armed RCMP officers. We were shocked and distressed to learn, as indicated by the BC Human Rights Commissioner, that the RCMP was prepared to use lethal force in its enforcement action on Wet’suwet’en territory. As the Human Rights Commissioner has cautioned, it is a matter of fundamental human rights that peaceful protestors should not be met with state violence. The British Columbia Human Rights Commissioner further stated: “Indigenous peoples who oppose development projects on their traditional territories should never be met with violence for peaceful opposition. I [urge] Canada to immediately cease the forced eviction of Wet’suwet’en peoples, to prohibit the use of lethal weapons, and to guarantee no force will be used against them. This is a matter of fundamental human rights.” We welcomed the statement reported in the Ubyssey on Jan 24th, in which Kurt Heinrich, Senior Director of UBC Media Relations, stated that “UBC does not condone violence of any kind and we urge people to strive for a calm and orderly resolution to the conflict – one that aligns with the peaceful and mutually respectful guidelines of behaviour articulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Third, we note with deep concern the contravention by Crown governments of our legal obligations to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). UNDRIP includes provisions recognizing the right to self-determination, and the need to obtain the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the Indigenous Nations when development is proposed in their territories. British Columbia has passed legislation bringing the UNDRIP into law. We note that the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recently released a statement in which it called upon the Canadian government to ”immediately halt the construction and suspend all permits and approvals for the construction of the Coastal Gas Link pipeline in the traditional and unceded lands and territories of the Wet’suwet’en peoples, until they grant their free, prior and informed consent, following the full and adequate discharge of the duty to consult.” The statement also called upon Canada to: immediately cease forced eviction of Wet’suwet’en peoples; guarantee that no force will be used against Wet’suwet’en peoples; and prohibit the use of lethal weapons against Indigenous peoples. We affirm the need for Canada to respect its international legal obligations endorsed by Canada and British Columbia.

Fourth, we urge all parties involved to focus on the primacy of upholding human rights, including the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent. On January 10th, 2020, the BC Human Rights Commissioner issued a statement which noted that “as a signatory to the Convention to End Racial Discrimination (CERD), Canada has obligations to the CERD. Moreover, B.C. and Canada have —or plan to — legislate the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As such, we have obligations to ensure free, prior, and informed consent exists for all impacted Indigenous groups before projects impact lands.”

We also wish to respectfully acknowledge that some First Nations governments support the Coastal Gaslink project. Our letter is not intended to undermine their views or authority. Rather, we echo the BC Human Rights Commissioner in stating that: “Human rights are not a numbers game. Human rights do not exist only for the majority. They exist for each individual, and in the case of free, prior, and informed consent for each Indigenous rights holding group…this is precisely when our commitment to human rights principles is truly needed.”

We feel compelled to make this statement given the University of British Columbia’s stated commitment to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. We respectfully call on other members of the UBC community to issue public statements on this matter.

Signed by

Tłaliłila’ogwa Sarah Hunt, Kwagu’ł (Kwakwaka’wakw Nation), Faculty member
Glen Coulthard, Yellowknives Dene, Faculty member
Karen Bakker, Faculty member
Jessica Dempsey, Faculty member
Geraldine Pratt, Faculty member
Mollie Holmberg, Student
Nina Hewitt, Faculty member
Michele Koppes, Faculty member
Nina Ebner, Student
Douglas Robb, Student
Sarah Smith-Tripp, Student
Albina Gibadullina, Student
Dustin Gray, Tsalagi, Lenape, Student
Marion Nyberg, Student
Lucy MacKenzie, Other
Philippe Le Billon, Faculty member
Andrew Schuldt, Student
Harmony Martell, Post doctoral fellow
Sara Nelson, Post doctoral fellow
Juliane Collard. Student
Joseph Daniels. Student
Jamie Peck. Faculty member
Aaron Woods. Staff member
Breton Petersen, Staff member
Mielle Michaux, Student
Siobhán McPhee, Faculty member
Sara Cannon, Student
Caolan Barr, Student
Alexine Maria Sanchez, Student
Greg Henry, Faculty member
Elise Pletcher, Student
Micheal Jerowsky, Student
Luke Barnesmoore. Student
Loch Brown, Faculty member
Michael Simpson, Alumni
Alex Winter-Billington, Student
Vanessa Banta, Student
Richard Copley, Emeritus faculty member
Mikael Omstedt, Student
Caitlin Semmens, Alumni
Bonnie Kaserman, Faculty member
Kirsten McIlveen, Student
Tracy Wan, Student
Alex Kinkead, Student
Kyle Loewen, Student
JJ Eng, Student
Bruno Gagnon, Student
Isabella Montecalvo, Student
AC Quinn, Student
Inari Sosa, Student
Sarah Brown, Student
Trevor Barnes, Faculty member
Rojin Habibi, Student
James Pangilinan, Student
Jessica Hallenbeck, Alumni
Çavlan Erengezgin, Student
Kevin McCartney, Student
Adriana Gaganis, Student
Corin De Freitas, Student
Avril Hwang, Student
Jeffrey Whyte, Alumni
Kelsey Johnson, Student
Woo-cheol Kim, Student
Natalie Rees, Student
Andrew Shmuely, Student
David Speight, Other
Vicky Baker, Other
Christopher Reimer, Student
Cora Sachs, Student
Gabriele Dumpys Woolever, Student
Daniel Gámez, Student
Tara Cookson, Post doctoral fellow
Nick Middeldorp, Student
Denver Nixon, Faculty member
Juanita Sundberg, Faculty member
Nadine Deiter, Student
Micah Hilt, Student
Kiren Aujla, Student
Rachel Brydolf-Horwitz, Student
David Waine, Staff member
Yevgen Stets. Student
Rajdeep Dhaliwal, Student
Paulina Yus, Student
Julia Wakeling, Alumni
Sara Knox, Faculty member
Joshua Medicoff, Student
Sam Tuck, Student
Susie He, Student
Akhil Dattani, Student
Pearl Ayem, Student
Max Kittner, Student
Clara Dunlop, Student
Mary Halton, Staff member
Caitlin Chan, Alumni
Luke Wallace, Alumni
Ryan Crosschild ~ Sikapiohkiitopi Kainaiwa (Blackfoot Confederacy), Student
Kaymi Yoon-Maxwell, Alumni
Jonathan Chen, Student
Melissa Lee, Alumni
Shira Sanghvi, Student
Eleanor Wearing, Alumni
Emma Gunn, Student
Alison Nakajima-Inglis, Student
Laura Gordon-Mitchell NA, Student
Beverly Ma, Student
Louise Sauvanaud, Student
Gabrielle Wolf, Student
Niklas Agarwal, Alumni
Nicole Rich, Alumni
Eva Fong, Student
Angela Ho, Alumni
Maia Janz, Alumni
Mary Kristen, Student
Sophie Goodman, Alumni
Christina Lee, Alumni
Blake Allen, Alumni
Isabel Hagen, Student
Mana Hashimoto, Alumni
Andrea Lucy, Alumni
Claire Shepansky, Alumni
Nica Derakhshannia, Student
Lily Golightly, Student
Naomi Schwartz, Faculty member
Kevin A. Gould, Alumni
Henry Guinn , Student
Aaron Obedkoff, Student
Jessica Broomfield, Alumni
Elvin Wyly, Faculty member
George Rahi, Alumni
Marthe Benoit, Alumni
Stephany Blandino, Alumni
Andrew Gilberds, Student
Bob Martin, Other
Andrew Gilberds, Student
Max Ritts, Alumni
Steven, Weisman, Student
Lawrence Berg, Other
Chris Meulbroek, Student
Dominica Patterson, Other
Maria Michouris, Other
Tom Howard, Alumni

Members of the UBC Geography community can continue to add their signatures in support.