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GUEST: Inside the Wetsuwet’en Power Struggle

The Office of the Wetsuwet’en, upon whom media attention is focussed, is a quarter-century-old green quango sustained by governments and philanthropies.




Athabascan-speaking indigenous peoples of B.C.’s central interior were once called “Carriers.” The name survives in: Carrier Chilcotin Tribal Council and Carrier Sekani Tribal Council. B.C.’s 8,000 Carriers populate a dozen bands. Distinctions among Carriers, and between Carriers and their neighbors, turn on differences in dialects that few actually speak. Several Carrier bands now self-identify as “Wetsuwet’en.” 

Carriers contacted Europeans in 1793 and soon plied the fur trade. Between 1871 and 1895 Ottawa assigned them reservations. Employment in railway crews and logging camps dates to this era.

Wetsuwet’en First Nation (pop. 257) is one of three bands arising from the recent breakup of the Omenica Band. The other two are: Nee-Tah-Buhn (pop. 130) and Skin Tyee (pop. 164). 

Coastal GasLink began consulting effected aboriginals in 2012. They held 15,000 consultations and awarded a third of the pipeline’s preparatory jobs to aboriginals.

Coastal GasLink inked agreements with 20 First Nations including the abovementioned: Wetsuwet’en, Wislet, Skin Tyee and Nee-Tah-Buhn bands. Also signing were Wetsuwet’en bands in the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council:  Stellat’en, Ts’il Kaz Koh, Nadleh Whuten and Saik’uz. The sole unsigned Wetsuwet’en band, Hagwilget Village, is far from GasLink’s route. All Wetsuwet’en bands along Coastal GasLink’s route have consented. 

Wislet First Nation alone will receive $55 million over the life of the project; plus, jobs and training. In a 2018 secret ballot, two-thirds of Wislet voters supported Coastal GasLink’s offer.

The Office of the Wetsuwet’en (“OW”) is the unelected, media-anointed representative of the Wetsuwet’en. By admission, the Smithers-headquartered OW is: “not an Indian Band or a tribal council.”

(The five bands with which OW claims affiliation receive combined annual revenues of $25 million; mostly from Ottawa. Combined on-reserve populations total 1,250. Their 3,000 off-reserve members live in Smithers, Prince Rupert, Prince George and Vancouver. Many were born in these centres.

In 1992, Ottawa hatched the B.C. Treaty Commission and Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy. The former funds B.C. aboriginal participation in treaty negotiations.

The Wetsuwet’en Treaty Office Society emerged in 1994 to access Commission funds. Since then, they’ve rung-up a $15 million debt. They receive annual loans and contributions totalling around $400,000. Money goes to honoraria for Hereditary Chiefs, administration, overhead, etc.  

The Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy (AFS) is a Fisheries and Oceans Canada initiative. A.F.S. disburses $35 million annually to 125 groups. Aboriginals are paid to: monitor wildlife; enforce conservation regulations, and manage traditional fisheries.

In 1995, the Office of Wetsuwet’en Chiefs landed a $105,000 AFS cheque. In 1996, they netted: a $500,000 A.F.S. cheque; a $100,000 “green plan” cheque; and $89,000 in salmon sales. (Salmon sales thereafter disappear from the books.) 

The Office of Wetsuwet’en Chiefs was an unregistered society managing the Wetsuwet’en Treaty Office Society. The two entities merged in 2000, into the Office of the Wetsuwet’en. 

O.W. parlayed A.F.S. and Commission stipends into several counselling, cultural and enviro-assessment programs. Their $4 million in annual revenues goes mostly to salaries, administration, and honoraria for Hereditary Chiefs. OW employs 30 full-time staff.

O.W.’s Fisheries and Wildlife Department employs 3 full-time, and 20 seasonal workers. Department boss Walter Joseph got the gig in 1996 and never left. Walt’s an “adopted” Wetsuwet’en.

O.W.’s Natural Resources Department employs 4 full-timers. Hereditary Chief John Ridsdale is spokesman. Mike Ridsdale does enviro-assessments. David Dewit (B.Sc. Biol.) specializes in “sensitive ecosystem preservation.” David Belford – a non-aboriginal who’s been moiling aboriginal grants since 1975 – specializes in media relations and negotiating “engagement agreements”, whereby hapless resource companies bankroll OW’s enviro-assessments.

O.W.’s records contain line items regarding “Coastal GasLink Project Assessment” ($154,000 in 2014; $111,000 in 2015 and $114,000 in 2016). This money apparently came from Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency; although a 2016 issue of Wetsuwet’en Voice references a $30 million provincial LNG Environmental Stewardship Fund.

O.W.’s Resource Department’s land-sharing/enviro-agreements yield a few hundred grand annually. O.W. logging made a $1 million a year in 2012-13 before devolving into a smaller but steady payout from Canfor. 

The 2016 Financial Statement mentions a “title assertion case” against Canfor on behalf of Hagwilget Village. That band ran up a $293,000 debt to O.W. but a $330,000 Canfor cheque cleared this. 

O.W. documents detail grants from enviro-funders. The Pacific Salmon Foundation has given cheques in the $40,000 to $50,000 range. The Driftwood Foundation gave them $9,500 for “clan meetings.” The Bulkley Valley Research Centre donated over $100,000. During 2014-16, Tides Canada awarded $130,000 for clan meetings and “IT support”. 

O.W. boasts “structural allegiances” with: the US enviro-grantmaker Moore Foundation, the Skeena Fisheries Commission, and the Skeenawild Conservation Trust (an E.N.G.O. connected to major foundations). John Ridsdale is a Skeenawild Trustee.

O.W.’s Mission:

“Based on the priorities of the Board of Directors, staff must negotiate program funding through various federal and provincial governments and foundations. This situation creates added responsibility for management to ensure that programs meet goals to illustrate success and generate support for continued funding.”

O.W. does Big Green’s bidding whist shaking down resource companies and the workers (often indigenous) that stand to benefit. 

O.W. documents are saturated with eco-propaganda. Hereditary Chief Henry Alfred intones: 

“We need to clean up the environment and ecosystem by ending the use of herbicides and pesticides.”  

O.W.’s website sports anti-pipeline articles dating to 2006. An October 2018 media release crows about O.W.’s longstanding opposition to all pipelines. O.W. led aboriginal opposition to Northern Gateway, which the Trudeau government killed in 2016. A December 2018 release affirms their programmatic opposition to Coastal GasLink.

Another pillar of O.W.’s Mission is: “ensure a governance model based on our hereditary system.” They declare:

“Our office is governed by Wetsuwet’en Hereditary Chiefs.” Not the democratically elected band council representing the Wetsuwet’en people.

Hereditary Chiefs aren’t strictly hereditary. Chief Alphonse Gagnon appears to be white. 

Moreover, in 2015, after three female Hereditary Chiefs endorsed Coastal Gaslink, the O.W. gang stripped them of their chiefdoms. (The women contest this usurpation.) The title of “Chief Woos” was taken from Darlene Glaim and given to Frank Alec, who became spokesman for the eco-activist Gitdumden clan. 

In 2019, to mitigate this patriarchal purge O.W. elevated Freda Huson and Molly Wickham to “Wing-Chiefs.” Huson is the hyper-activist co-founder of the Unistoten Camp. The telegenic, university-educated OW staffer, Wickham, isn’t Wetsuwet’en. 

In 2009, O.W. issued an imperious Protocol requiring resource companies in their self-declared 22,000 sq. k. domain to submit all plans to OW for approval. Also in 2009, O.W. held five weekend retreats; one for each “clan.” Each retreat attracted a dozen adults who were lectured by Ridsdale and Belford on eco-activist tactics. One retreat conjured the “Unistoten” – allegedly a “house” within the Big Frog clan.    

The Unistoten are no ancient order. They are a plausibly deniable, direct action, astro-turf front group. The Unistoten Camp blockade, the main manifestation of opposition to Coastal GasLink, has been joined by the Gitdumden Camp. Many camp activists are non-aboriginal, professional protestors.

The few thousand people who might rightly claim Wetsuwet’en heritage are demonstrably, overwhelmingly supportive of Coastal Gaslink.

The Office of the Wetsuwet’en, upon whom media attention is focussed, is a quarter-century-old green quango sustained by governments and philanthropies. 

O.W. “Hereditary Chiefs” represent only themselves and their ill-intentioned funders.

Guest column by William Kay. The contents of this article are the property and responsibility of William Kay’s and not the Western Standard. 


EXCLUSIVE: Pickton survivor tells her story for the first time

Lenore is one of three women known to escape killer Robert Pickton, and she’s telling her story for the very first time exclusively to the Western Standard.




She was raped numerous times before she reached the age of 10, became a hard-core drunk and is one of the few women who survived an encounter with Canada’s most heartless serial killer.

All in all, Lenore said she feels lucky to be alive.

Lenore – who asked that her true identity not be revealed – is one of three women known to escape killer Robert Pickton, and she’s telling her story for the very first time exclusively to the Western Standard.

Robert Pickton Courtesy CBC

“I was so scared – I had no one to tell this to,” said Lenore, from her Cowichan Valley home on Vancouver Island.

Abandoned by her mother as an infant, Lenore said she was in and out of “one too many” foster homes and had been raped or otherwise sexually abused numerous times before she was 11 years old.

“I was told I would never amount to anything, I won’t be nothing,” she recalled.

By the time she was in her late teens, Lenore was alone, a hardcore alcoholic living on the streets of downtown Vancouver.

One night while in her late teens she said she became extremely intoxicated and ended up walking aimlessly in the Downtown Eastside, Vancouver’s notorious neighbourhood known for drugs, prostitution and the extremely high HIV rate of its citizens.

“I was very, very drunk,” she told the Western Standard.

It wasn’t long before  a “white old van” pulled up next to the wobbly woman and a lone male driver wearing a ball cap offered Lenore a lift.

The eyes of Lenore – lived to tell her story of an encounter with multiple murderer Robert Pickton. Photo my Mike D’Amour, Western Standard

She got in the van and said she noticed all the rear seats had been removed, leaving only cargo space.

Lenore said it didn’t take long for her street smarts to permeate her drunken state.

“I got in the van and almost immediately had a funny feeling,” she recalled.

It was already well known on Vancouver streets that women were disappearing, a fact that caused Lenore’s misgivings to become full-blown fear.

“He said he was taking me to a park or something but I just said ‘no I want to go home.’”

The driver asked where she lived.“I said ‘no,’ just drop me at Commercial Drive and I’ll walk from there.”

The man made it clear he was not going to stop.

“I grabbed the door handle and I don’t know how fast he was going, but I just jumped out,” Lenore said.

Uninjured, Lenore began walking, and noticed the driver circling to intercept her.

Walking into crowds and into alleys, she was able to give him the slip.

“I went home and just sat there – I was scared  ****less – I was scared to go outside at all,” Lenore said.

“I didn’t tell no one, not the police, not my friends or family.” 

The very next week Lenore said she learned yet another woman disappeared and was later found dead.

Much later, when Pickton was arrested and pictures of the murderer were widely seen, Lenore realized how lucky she had been.

She could have been Pickton’s third, seventh – or God knows what number – victim.

After his 2002 arrest, when he was charged with the murder of 26 women, Pickton was convicted five years later of killing six women, mostly prostitutes working the Downtown Eastside.

Pickton’s victims. Courtesy CBC

Twenty charges were stayed by the Crown because of the low possibility of convictions in those cases.

But the killer said the numbers were higher, much higher.

“I was gonna do one more, make it an even 50,” he told an undercover police officer as the pair sat in a jail cell while the pig farmer awaited his day in court.

“That’s why I was sloppy, I wanted one more. Make… make the big five-O.”

The pig farmer’s M.O. was that he preyed upon drug addicts and prostitutes whom he’d pick up in Vancouver’s red-light district before driving them to his nearby Port Coquitlam farm, where he had sex with the women before murdering them in a number of grim and ghastly ways, reportedly feeding some of his victims to his hogs.

Pickton was sentenced to life behind bars with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

Lenore is one of three women able to meet Pickton on the streets and live to tell her story.

In 1997, for the promise of a hundred bucks, a woman got into Pickton’s vehicle and ended up at his farm.

After they had sex, she testified at Pickton’s preliminary hearing, he came up behind her and slipped a handcuff onto one of her wrists.

The woman managed to grab a knife and cut the pig farmer’s arm and neck before escaping the farm.

A year earlier, another woman, said she found herself in Pickton’s trailer. 

She said he pulled out a knife and accused her of swiping his wallet before he drove her back to Vancouver.

While her encounter with Pickton never became a violent situation one, Lenore said she considers herself lucky.

Lenore, exults in the knowledge she survived foster homes, sexual abuse and an encounter with one of Canada’s most prolific murderers. Photo by Mike D’Amour, Western Standard

“I quit drinking and started a job,” she said.

Now Lenore has been clean for decades, has steady work and loves her life on Vancouver Island.

“I really am grateful.”

Mike D’Amour is a former investigative reporter for Sun Media, and the Western Standard’s B.C. bureau chief

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WESTROCK: ‘Crown Lands’ the next big band to break out of Canada

Ernest Skinner interviews Kevin Comeau of the up-and-coming Canadian duo Crown Lands. Check it out for a special preview just for WS readers.




Crown Lands are a two-time Juno nominated duo based out of Oshawa, Ontario. In a short time, the lineup has received accolades from many of the music industries toughest critics.

Rolling Stone Magazine had this to say; “The multi-part, three-years-in-the-making suite ‘Context: Fearless Pt. 1’ may well be one of the most overt Rush tributes ever, and last year’s self titled debut album from the hirsute young Canadian rock duo Crown Lands, is an accomplished, chops-heavy take on blues-rock, produced by roots mastermind Dave Cobb, which won them critical praise and two Juno nominations.”

Kerrang Magazine raved, “familiar musical motifs blended into something fresh and distinctive, delivered with a combination of indignation, intelligence and forest-dwelling spirituality. It’s also a hell of a debut.”

The list goes on and on, with Guitar World, the BBCCBC, and Hockey Night in Canada, which we’ll get to later.

The band consists of Kevin Comeau on guitar, bass, and keyboards while Two-Spirit (Cody Bowles) takes care of the vocals and drums.

A friend of mine and one-time skeptic Mark Kniahnicki told me, “I was blown away when I saw them live a few years ago. I didn’t think you could get that kind of full sound out of just two guys.” 

With three medium length plays (EPs) to their credit since they formed in 2015, they finally released their self-titled debut album in August of 2020.

The obvious Rush and Zeppelin sound will make you look down at your bell bottoms while you are enjoying the psychedelic trip these two bring you on. 

End of the Road is a deep song about the missing and murdered indigenous women along the infamous Highway of Tears (Yellowhead Hwy. 16 in British Columbia.) This song showcases their mature songwriting and intelligence, and the video for this track is downright haunting. Go and check it out via YouTube.

Early last year, these (hopefully) soon-to-be Juno recipients teamed up with three former Rush producers (Terry Brown, Nick Raskulinecz, David Botrill) to record Context: Fearless Pt.1, which was released alongside Right Way Back, penned as a tribute to the late Neil Peart.

Upon arrival in Nashville to cut and mix these songs, producer Raskulinecz stunned the band by bringing out the drum kit that the late Peart used on the 2007 Snakes and Arrows album for Cody to use.

According to Cody“This was one of the most spiritual experiences in our lives.”     

Both songs can be listened /to back to back on YouTube. 

I was lucky enough to chat with Kevin on Friday. He was down to earth and very humble for an up-and-coming international musician. 

I mentioned that my favorite song of theirs was End of the Road and would be in the article.

“Our band mission statement is about talking about these kinds of things and how the indigenous are being treated.”

I also asked them how they became affiliated with Hockey Night in Canada

“Our label Universal Music Canada and our rep Allison Phillips, are so great and they have a tight relationship with the NHL. In the past they have played a couple of our songs during the intro of some playoff games.”

If you are curious about Kevin’s guitar style and main influences growing up, he offered this up.  

“As a slide player, Duane Allman, he was the master. No one before or after him measures up; and then you have Lindsay Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac who is another hero of mine with his right hand technique.” 

Instead of working on recording a full album, the duo is doing something I think will be catching on. 

“We are going to focus on releasing a of couple songs at a time so we can really spend a lot of time making them masterpieces”, said Kevin. “These days, a lot of albums have three great tunes and the rest are just fillers. We want our fans to love everything we put out.”

Get ready Canada. These two from Southern Ontario are going to break out internationally through Universal Music Canada, and you’ll know why after listening to their new material. 

Ernest Skinner is the Westrock Music Columnist for the Western Standard

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Westrock: Whitesnake is back, and you need to listen

Ernest Skinner interviews Whitesnake frontman David Coverdale on the band’s new album.




I think a more appropriate title would have been B Sides Tuned to A,or something of that nature.

What   …. am I talking about? I’ll put it to you this way. A lot of the tracks on the album are not well known to the average rocker. The avid Whitesnake fan will surely know them, but many will not. The songs I outline below could have very well charted just as high if they were released at the right time.

David Coverdale of Whitesnake has just re-released a mixed concoction of 14 previously released Snake tunes with a bit of a twang to salute the blues influences he grew up learning from and admiring such as Howlin’ Wolf, B. B King, Muddy Waters and others. 

The Blues Album features cuts from the albums Slide it In, Whitesnake, Forevermore, Good to be Bad, Restless Heart, and David’s 2000 solo piece, Into the Light.

Whitesnack’s ‘The Blues Album’. Photo credit: Whitesnake

Aside from the well known songs like Slow An’ Easy, Give Me All Your Love, Steal Away Your Love, and a couple of other top Snake classics, the listener also will appreciate the brilliance of David’s cast of guitarists over the years that bring other great tracks to the table to round out this release.

Former guitarist Doug Aldrich masterfully kicks your ass with a Robert Johnson and Ry Cooder-ish kind of fuzzy stringed and harmonic punch,in hardhitting tunes like Whipping Boy Blues (Good to be Bad) and A Fool in Love (Forevermore). The Drop D tuning is a signature move by Aldrich and these songs although blues influenced, are hard rock to the core.

A superior cut on the vinyl from David’s 2000 solo album features the six string genius of Earl Slick who is known in the A side musical circles from his work with John Lennon, John Waite, David Bowie, and many other notables. The track The River Song is as outstanding as its singer who slides in “baptized by muddy water” in the juice; and every blues fan will appreciate this one as you can hear a Stevie Ray Vaughn influence a mile away.

Rounding things out is Adrian Vandenberg and his wizardry from the Restless Heartalbum with Too Many Tears which has a Rolling Stones vibrato and feel. 

Also from that early album, the obviously Beatles-influenced song Take Me Back Again;with the chord progressions that scream of Canada’s Kick Axe with their cover of A Little Help from my Friends. 

Most that know the Beatles classic will hear it in this Whitesnake B side. 

David Coverdale. Photo Credit: Whitesnake

The Blues Album is part three of the trilogy three album release by Coverdale; red (Love Songs), white (The Rock Album) and (The Blues Album) blue.

Any rock fan will enjoy this gathering of odds and ends or A sides and B sides, if you will.

I did have the honor to speak with Sir Coverdale about the album, and due to some technical issues, it sounded like I “was on the space shuttle” he said.   

 Once we got things rolling, a smooth tongued Coverdale shot back with “Aaah yea, it’s like a sex call now darling” when I asked him if things were better and a bit clearer.

We talked about many things regarding the album that I summed up above. He also wanted me to tell you.

“I can’t wait to see my Canadian fans again.”

Long liveWhitesnake!

Ernest Skinner is the WestRock music columnist for the Western Standard

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