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Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations councillor says ‘Hereditary chiefs have the ultimate power’

Ahousaht future hereditary chief Jaiden George explains Indigenous governance.
Elected Tla-o-qui-aht councillor Terry Dorward leads a Feb. 10 solidarity march for Wet’suwet’en in Tofino. (Ian Ferreira photo)

Jaiden George is a future hereditary chief to the Ahousaht First Nation based on the West Coast Vancouver Island near Tofino.

The young photography student at Emily Carr University of Art and Design is mindful of the fact that his hereditary title holds great responsibility.

“The line of chiefs that I come from is 17 generations strong,” George tells the Westerly News over the phone from Vancouver. “De-colonization, self-governance, and self-sustenance are big things we’re working towards, and I’ll be working towards in the future.”

In terms of the Ahousaht governance system, he explains that final decision-making power concerning the land and peoples has always belonged to the hereditary chiefs prior to European contact, and this is how he feels should it still be: they should not be overruled by the elected chiefs.

“What’s happening up north [with the Wet’suwet’en] is an example of this being ignored,” George said.

READ MORE: B.C. hereditary chiefs ban Coastal GasLink from Wet’suwet’en lands

Terry Dorward is an elected councillor for the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation whose chief’s territory (or Ha-Hoothlee) encompasses the municipality of Tofino.

“In Tla-o-qui-aht, our hereditary chiefs and elected chiefs work side by side, however if the Indian Act chiefs and [elected] council were to go outside of their mandate, it’s the hereditary chiefs who have the ultimate authority,” said Dorward.

“Our hereditary chiefs sit at the elected chiefs table and we try to come up with a consensus on things,” he continues. “We try to work together as a unified front. The council is there for hereditary chiefs.”

On Feb. 10, Dorward led a march and rally in Tofino to show solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs that do not consent to the Coastal GasLink LNG pipeline going through their Ha-Hoothlee.

“When the elected council makes decisions outside of their so-called jurisdiction outside of Indian Reserves that negatively effects the overall traditional territories of the Wet’suwet’en it becomes very problematic,” Dorward said. “We hope that internally they work with the elected system and try to resolve it,” he adds.

Young hereditary chief George wishes he could say he is surprised about what’s happening to the Wet’suwet’en.

“But it’s been happening for hundreds and hundreds of years. And something that always irks me the wrong way is the notion that colonization is in the past and it’s something that Indigenous People need to get over and it’s not. It’s happening right now. It goes to show that the government’s attempt for reconciliation is nothing more than empty words,” said George.

George said he is committed to protecting and upholding Indigenous Rights and protecting and upholding the environment.

“I was always taught that as a chief you are not above any of your people. You are the one that holds them up. I just love that teaching so much and that is such a good way to look at being in a position of power. It’s about the people that you are leading. It’s this teaching that I have every intention of withholding,” he said.

He believes there is really only one way to resolve the Wet’suwet’en conflict.

“The Canadian Government needs to stand down and respect Wet’suwet’en law. Reconciliation can only be done once damage stops,” said George.

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