Wet’suwet’en chiefs, ministers reach proposed agreement in pipeline dispute

Wet’suwet’en hereditary leader Chief Woos, centre, also known as Frank Alec, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, left, and B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser address the media in Smithers, B.C. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Wet’suwet’en hereditary leader says they remain opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline

A Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief and senior government ministers say they have reached a proposed arrangement in discussing a pipeline dispute that has prompted solidarity protests across Canada in recent weeks.

Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and British Columbia Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser would not give details on the proposed arrangement, saying it first has to be reviewed by the Wet’suwet’en people.

Chief Woos, one of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders, said the proposal represents an important milestone.

“We’re going to be continuing to look at some more conversations with B.C. and of course with the proponent and to further our conversations with the RCMP,” Woos said.

“It’s not over yet.”

Still opposed to pipeline

Woos said the hereditary leaders remain opposed to the pipeline. The proposed arrangement with the government is regarding questions around rights and title to their traditional territory.

“This is what we’re all about, is the occupation of the land out there,” he said.

The Wet’suwet’en are governed by both a traditional hereditary chief system and elected band councils. A majority of its councils have approved the Coastal GasLink pipeline, but some of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose it running through their traditional territory.

The issue has spurred solidarity protests and rail blockades across the country since RCMP moved in on Feb. 6 to enforce an injunction to stop a road blockade erected by those opposed to the pipeline that prevented the company’s workers from entering the site.

Bennett said the proposed arrangement will honour the protocols of the Wet’suwet’en people and clans.

Rights holders always ‘at the table’

The arrangement builds on a Supreme Court decision regarding rights and title, she said, presumably referring to a 1997 decision acknowledging Aboriginal land title that set a precedent for how it is understood in Canadian courts.

Bennett said the past few days of negotiations had been about learning, and humility.

“The rights holders will always be at the table. And that is the way through for Canada,” Bennett said.

Woos warned developers that the hereditary leaders will continue to protect their waters, wildlife habitats and traditional sites with “everything we have.”

“As Wet’suwet’en, we are the land and the land is ours,” he said. “We’re not going to look at any alternative ways.”

The announcement comes as talks between the hereditary chiefs and the ministers entered a fourth day.

The Canadian Press · Posted: Mar 01, 2020

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