'We'll continue to win': How Indigenous leaders reached new heights in 2018

From winning a landmark court case against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and a Sixties Scoop settlement to a renaissance in Indigenous languages, it has been a fascinating year in Indigenous politics.

Trans Mountain pipeline decision, child welfare and language renaissance were major headlines in 2018

Rueben George addresses the media in Vancouver following the Appeals Court announcement that halted the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in August. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

From a landmark court decision that put the brakes on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, to a Sixties Scoop settlement, to a renaissance in Indigenous languages, it was a fascinating year in Indigenous politics.

The stories have shed light on tensions, inequality and resilience in Indigenous communities.

Here are the highlights:

1. Pipeline pullout

The debate over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion didn't just trickle across the B.C. and Alberta borders, it surged across Canada.

Thousands of Indigenous people weighed in on a judicial review launched by several First Nations, including the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations. In August, a federal Appeals Court court ruling quashed approval of the pipeline project.

Rueben George is the manager of the Sacred Trust, an initiative of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation mandated to stop the Trans Mountain expansion.

"I always knew from the very beginning that we would win," George said.

"It was huge. Not not just across the country, but around the world. And it was a victory for First Nations, for sure, but it was a victory for everybody."

But not everyone thought it was a win — not the Canadian government nor businesses in B.C. Some feared the decision would put a chill on international investment in the province.

Some First Nations like the Whispering Pines, the Peters Band and a Métis organization in B.C. were looking at potential equity, a say in environmental protection and jobs for their communities.

Canada's purchase of the pipeline means the saga will not be over anytime soon. 

The Federal Court of Appeal's rejection of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is fuelling celebrations for environmentalists and some of B.C.'s Indigenous peoples. 2:52

2. Indigenous child welfare

Few knew about the lifelong effects of the Sixties Scoop until this year. In 2018, thousands of survivors applied for compensation, receiving up to $50,000 each under a class action settlement they won.

The case found the federal government failed to prevent Indigenous children from losing their identity after they were forcibly taken from their homes.

Thousands were placed in non-Indigenous care between 1959 and 1991, which resulted in psychological harm. But Indigenous children in great numbers continue to face being disconnected from their culture in non-Indigenous foster homes.

Child welfare dominated headlines in 2018 — from revelations that poverty and paperwork are the leading reasons that more than 60 per cent of children in care in B.C. are Indigenous, to a social worker named in several lawsuits for siphoning money for Indigenous youth.

For Mary Teegee, executive director of Carrier Sekani Family Services, the most important story of 2018 was when Ottawa announced it would hand over child welfare services to Indigenous governments. The move was made in an effort to drive down the high number of Indigenous children in foster care.

"We're on the precipice of making fundamental change and it's an exciting time," said Teegee, who is also a board member of the First Nations Caring Society.

"The ability to actually draft our own codes and our own laws based on our traditional child-rearing practices based on our culture, it's a phenomenal time right now and in Canadian history," she added.

Finding Cleo is part of the CBC podcast series Missing and Murdered — it follows a Cree family's search for their missing sister and attempts to uncover why she and her five siblings were taken into government care in the early 1970s. Cleopatra Semaganis Nicotine and her siblings, Johnny, Mark, Annette, April and Christine, were part of a wave of apprehensions of Indigenous children by child welfare authorities that has become known as the Sixties Scoop 12:55

3. Renaissance in Indigenous languages

This year saw a surge in exposure for Indigenous languages — in film, education and music.

The movie Edge of the Knife was scripted solely in the Haida language, Jeremy Dutcher sang his album entirely in his language and immersion language classes popped up across Canada.

For some, this solidified the importance of Indigenous people telling their own stories, rather than outsiders providing an anthropological view. Debates around cultural appropriation were critical this year, as well as recognizing the importance of authentication.

"I'm really hopeful that 2019 is going to give us an opportunity to get more coordinated and strengthen our voice together and and build from solutions," said Lou Anne Neal, a Kwaguilth artist who has been working to ensure Indigenous art is officially authenticated by governments.

The first Haida language film is currently in production and tells the powerful story of a dying language — and what its few remaining speakers are doing to save it. 10:36

About the Author

Angela Sterritt

CBC Reporter

Angela Sterritt is a journalist from the Gitxsan Nation. Sterritt's news and current affairs pieces are featured on national and local CBC platforms. Her CBC column 'Reconcile This' tackles the tensions between Indigenous people and institutions in B.C.