When you think of aboriginal land title, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? The September 26 ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada regarding land title of the Tsilhqot’in nation in BC has certainly set precedent. What does this mean for the First Nation? What does it mean for Colonial Canada?
It seems that the answers on most people’s mind have to do with business. On CBC’s “The National”, Peter Mansbridge announces how the decision “could have huge implications right across Canada.” He then goes on to report how those implications will “touch government, industry, and any future economic or resource development on First Nations land, including the newly approved Northern Gateway Pipeline.”
The crafting of this report is problematic in two ways. First, the report mentions “The Northern Gateway Pipeline” as if it is a fait accompli. It is not. There is no pipeline. Northern Gateway is a proposed name to be given to a proposed pipeline that an oil company would like to build. It’s only an idea on paper. To talk about it in this way reinforces in everyone’s mind that it is an inevitability. Once it’s named, it’s real. At best, we should be saying, “a pipeline that Enbridge Corporation would like to build.”
The second, and larger problem with the report is that it ignores the people that the ruling most affects –the Tsilhqot’in themselves. What is the implication of the ruling for them? Who knows? Who cares? The report bypasses them completely, and jumps right into talk about the possible effects on business. And the more in-depth coverage of the issue by CBC’s Chris Brown is no better, focusing pretty much exclusively on a pipeline debate. Need I remind everyone that there currently IS NO proposal for an oil pipeline to go through Tsilhqot’in territory. Is there no other meaning to the Supreme Court’s decision than the thwarting of a multinational business interest?
It’s not just CBC that is reporting this way. The Huffington Post reports much the same way, as does The Globe and Mail, which contains “Northern Gateway Pipeline” in its headline.
This is a concerning mindset in Canada. We have it backwards. We look at legal precedent, and government in terms of how they will affect business. We seem to measure everything in terms of “the economy”, forgetting that “economy” is a means to an end, and forgetting that in the current economy there are winners, but also many, many losers, including future generations who will have to suffer the effects of accelerated climate change and pollution. Really, we should be asking, “How will this business affect the future living conditions of all First Nations people, and all Canadians in general?” We should measure business in terms of its effects on our endeavour, and not endeavour in terms of its effects on business.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on Tsilhqcot’in land title is the culmination of generations of struggle of a people. To limit its significance to the building of an oil pipeline not even near the land in question, is an insult to all those who struggled. What is their story? Their lawsuit was not crafted as an attempt to stop an oil company. Why so much focus on that?