Wet’suwet’en Chiefs Say Unist’ot’en Do Not Speak For Their Nations
BURNS LAKE, BC, Aug. 31, 2015 /CNW/ – Wet’suwet’en First Nation Chief Karen Ogen, Nee Tahi Buhn Chief Ray Morris, Burns Lake Band Chief Dan George, and Skin Tyee Nation Chief Rene Skin, say they are disappointed at recent media coverage that represents the Unist’ot’en as speaking for their Nations, and that fails to represent the complexity of the issues.
“We have long believed it is short sighted to turn down projects such as the Coastal GasLink project before understanding the true risks and benefits; that is just an easy way to avoid dealing with complex issues,” says Chief Ogen, spokesperson for the four Chiefs and for the First Nations LNG Alliance, a group of First Nations that support LNG development in British Columbia. Chief Dan George states, “Our Nations support responsible resource development as a way to bring First Nations out of poverty and bring opportunities for our young people.”
The Chiefs say they are also concerned with the number of individuals and groups, some Aboriginal, some political, some environmental and others, who have signed the We Stand with the Unist‘ot‘en petition. “The definition of sustainability for some of the groups who signed the petition and live in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, elsewhere in Canada and outside the country, is very different from what it means for Nations in northern British Columbia that are anxious to climb out of poverty and find meaningful opportunity. This issue needs to be resolved by the Wet’suwet’en people, and not by others who hold no interest in our land,” says Chief Skin.
After careful study and consideration of the dedicated natural gas pipeline, a number of First Nations entered into benefits agreements with Coastal GasLink once they were satisfied that economic and social benefits would be balanced with the protection of the environment.
The Chiefs also point out that should the Coastal GasLink project proceed, the Unist’ot’en Camp that has been established at the Morice River Bridge, could continue to operate, as a proposed route option, requested by some of the Hereditary Chiefs for Coastal GasLink to consider, if selected, would not conflict with the continuance of the Camp.
“It is in times of crisis where we have the greatest opportunity to come together as Wet’suwet’en leaders,” says Chief Ogen. “There is a way to work together to find a path forward and keep everyone safe.” “We are urging all Wet’suwet’en leaders – First Nation and Hereditary Chiefs – to meet as soon as possible to discuss a path forward. We as leaders are responsible for the collective well being of Wet’suwet’en people. We have an obligation to work together in our collective interest to represent our people,” states Chief Morris.
By participating in these processes with industry, and by collaborating among First Nations, the Chiefs believe that First Nations have the opportunity to raise the bar on environmental protection. “Environmentalism must mean more than just saying no,” Chief Ogen said. “There is no doubt sustainability means protecting our environment. But sustainability also means ensuring our people have access to real opportunities and a decent standard of living. Sustainability means standing on our own two feet, providing our young people with good paying jobs, and reducing the 40 to 60% unemployment we now experience. Already, many of our members have been working on this project, which brings tangible benefits to our communities.”
The four Chiefs are confident the path forward for First Nations is to collaborate and find ways to balance environmental protection with economic opportunity, and in the process, create a more sustainable future for all.
Wet’suwet’en First Nation Chief Karen Ogen
Nee Tahi Buhn Chief Ray Morris
Burns Lake Band Chief Dan George
Skin Tyee Nation Chief Rene Skin
SOURCE: Wet’suwet’en First Nation