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Good morning! Wendy Cox here in Vancouver.

The dispute over the construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline has ignited solidarity protests across the country. The impact of the blockade of a forested logging road in Northern British Columbia has now prompted the halt of commuter trains in Montreal and freight trains travelling Canadian National Railway’s network. Traffic in Vancouver has been disrupted and protesters swarmed the grounds of the B.C. Legislature and confronted politicians.

CN’s chief executive JJ Ruest noted Tuesday that long-distance freight shipments in Central and Eastern Canada have been virtually frozen and train traffic is backed up from Halifax to Windsor, Ont., and in parts of B.C. approaching Prince Rupert.

In Victoria, chaotic protests blocking access to the B.C. Legislature very nearly forced the cancellation of the government’s Throne Speech. Lieutenant-Governor Janet Austin eventually found her way into the building to read a speech that pledged the government’s promise to move forward with the LNG project at the heart of the dispute.

The dispute has underlined some of the most difficult questions facing resource development in Canada: Supporters of the project – that include the 20 elected Indigenous band councils along the pipeline route – say it will create jobs and economic activity in an area in desperate need of both. LNG, they argue, is not the same as oil sands bitumen; it is cleaner burning with fewer environmental risks in the event of a pipeline rupture.

Environmental opponents argue LNG production continues to generate carbon emissions and does little to move the world away from fossil fuels. The pipeline should not cross the territory of an Indigenous group that is vehemently opposed, protesters argue.

But the division between the two sides isn’t quite that tidy. While the pipeline is opposed by the hereditary chiefs of one group, the Wet’suwet’en, it is supported by the elected chiefs and band councils along the route. That includes elected representatives of the Wet’suwet’en. Opponents of the pipeline regard those elected representatives as the product of a colonial – and therefore – illegitimate system.

Reporter Brent Jang, who has been on this story since the first blockade broke out in December, 2018, has done a diligent job of explaining, complete with a useful chart, what the hereditary system is: Five clans with 13 house chiefs, as well as a series of subchiefs.

But the question of how the hereditary system works turned out to be much, much more difficult. Brent and Wendy Stueck spent weeks sorting through court affidavits and speaking with scholars to understand how hereditary chiefs lead and where they draw their authority.

What they learned is that hereditary governance long predates the imposition of the Indian Act band and council system. The hereditary houses, guided by rules passed down through stories and dances and made real in the feast house, continue to be recognized by the courts and by the Wet’suwet’en themselves as authority in the vast expanses of territory the Wet’suwet’en claim. (The hereditary chiefs maintain elected chiefs and councils can claim authority over only the small territory granted as a reserve.)

But Wendy and Brent also found hereditary governance – like all forms of politics – is vulnerable to what one band member called “distortion.” In a matrilineal society, two women have been stripped of their titles as hereditary house chiefs, replaced by men. Of the 13 hereditary house groups, nine of the head chiefs are men and four positions are vacant. One prominent subchief, a leader of the protest movement, ran recently for a position on the elected band council and was defeated.

A solution to this dilemma and future ones that will be inevitable is not clear, as columnist Andrew Coyne writes.

“The courts have offered little guidance as to where the appropriate balance lies, beyond admonishing both sides to negotiate in good faith,” he notes.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.

Around the West:

OIL SANDS: Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is urging the Alberta government to enforce its cap on oil sands emissions, which he says are on track to exceed the limit if new production comes online. His comments come as the federal government considers whether to approve a massive new oil sands mine – Teck Resources Ltd.’s Frontier project – that opponents have attacked over its projected emissions. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney disputes the federal government’s assessment of emissions and says he wants assurances that new projects will be approved before the province will enforce the limit.

GREAT BEAR RAINFOREST: Logging of ancient trees is taking place in B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest, despite the fact that the B.C. government, environmentalists, forest companies and Indigenous communities signed a landmark agreement to protect the largest coastal temperate rain forest on the planet more than four years ago.

CRUDE BY RAIL: Alberta’s United Conservative Party government says it finally has buyers for crude-by-rail contracts signed by its NDP predecessor. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney isn’t providing any details on the contracts other than to say he expects to take a loss of $1.3-billion – about $200-million less than what the government projected in last year’s budget.

TRAIN DERAILMENT: The Saskatchewan government says about 1.2 million litres of oil spilled during a train derailment in a rural area last week. The province says it’s still calculating how much oil was recovered from the Canadian Pacific Railway train, which jumped the tracks last Thursday, but a significant portion was burned off.

ROCKY RAMBO WEI NAM KAM TRIAL: Under Crown cross-examination, psychologist Edward Shen acknowledged in B.C. Supreme Court the concept of “gaming consciousness” is not in the recognized text used by the criminal justice system for psychological disorders. He said he came up with the term to explain his theory about the case of 27-year-old Rocky Rambo Wei Nam Kam, who is being tried for killing a couple in Vancouver’s Marpole neighbourhood.

FORESTRY STRIKE DEAL: After nearly eight months, a strike by 2,400 forestry workers could come to an end soon thanks to a tentative deal. If the workers vote to approve, it will end a long bout of financial pain for the forest-dependent communities on Vancouver Island.

SEA LEVEL RISE: Justine Hunter delves deep into the issue of sea level rise and how communities on Vancouver Island are preparing for it – or aren’t. Since the province handed over flood management to local governments in 2003, a jumble of policies has created confusion about how to protect vital infrastructure from disaster.

NEW DINOSAUR: Jared Voris was examining skull fragments stored in a drawer at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alta., as part of his master’s thesis when he noticed features not seen in other tyrannosaur specimens. The most obvious were prominent vertical ridges along the upper jaw line. That discovery soon led researchers to the realization that these fossil fragments – found by a southern Alberta couple – was a brand new dinosaur, making it the first new tyrannosaur species to be identified in Canada in 50 years. It has been christened with a name that means “reaper of death.

HOMELESS SHELTER: A Calgary group is raising money to open an animal-friendly homeless shelter to ensure vulnerable people don’t have to choose between a roof over their heads and their pets.

SUNDAY SHOPPING: One of the last Sunday shopping bans in Canada is coming to an end. A change in provincial law means Steinbach, Man., a city of about 15,000 people that was among the last communities in the province to maintain its ban, will soon have seven-day-a-week retail sales. Justin Giovannetti travelled to Steinbach to see what people there think of the change.


Andrew Coyne on the duty to consult First Nations: “Here again, Indigenous groups are divided: more than 100 First Nations along the pipeline route either support or have expressed no opposition to it. But the confusion is compounded by the uncertainties surrounding the law on consultation.”

Kelly Cryderman on the future of the Alberta NDP: “Even if Ms. Notley, 55, believes there is still an opening for her party to form government again, there’s a long and difficult road ahead."

Duane Bratt on Alberta’s ‘kamikaze’ candidate: “Despite these unprecedented fines and an ongoing criminal investigation of a political party leadership race, it has not really gained traction in Alberta. It should. Not only are these serious allegations – some ethical and some criminal – but the 2017 UCP leadership race determined the current Premier of Alberta. It also implicates current UCP MLAs such as Peter Singh, whose auto-shop business was raided by the RCMP seeking evidence about voter fraud in the UCP leadership race.”

Barrie McKenna on Alberta’s continued dependence on coal: “More than 35 per cent of its power is produced by burning coal (and much of the rest from natural gas). That’s down from more than half five or so years ago. And coal’s share is likely to continue falling thanks to a $30-a-tonne provincial tax on big industrial users, including coal-fired power plants. But in a world gripped by the devastating consequences of global warming, Albertans should probably worry that so much of their electricity still comes from coal.”