Potential Pipeline Clash Worries First Nation Chief In B.C.

While Chief Ogen, who represents the elected council, is in favour of the gas pipelines, Freda Huson, who represents the Unist’ot’en, is steadfastly opposed. Ms. Huson is pictured with her husband, chief Toghestiy, in this photo when they spoke to the media about a blockade they've set up against the proposed Pacific Trail pipeline near Houston, B.C., in Vancouver on Monday April 7, 2014 (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

While Chief Ogen, who represents the elected council, is in favour of the gas pipelines, Freda Huson, who represents the Unist’ot’en, is steadfastly opposed. Ms. Huson is pictured with her husband, chief Toghestiy, in this photo when they spoke to the media about a blockade they’ve set up against the proposed Pacific Trail pipeline near Houston, B.C., in Vancouver on Monday April 7, 2014
(DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Globe and Mail | Published, Sep. 07, 2015

There are growing fears violence could erupt if a protest camp in northern B.C. remains in place on the right-of-way of two proposed gas lines.

But resolving the dispute will require untangling a complicated internal conflict that has set hereditary and elected chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation against one another.

Chief Karen Ogen of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation said she’s worried band members working for contractors on the gas line right-of-ways could clash with protesters blocking an access road.

She’s also concerned about what might happen if the RCMP move in to dismantle the camp, which has been in place for several years but has recently begun to hold up industry work crews.

“I just hope it doesn’t have to escalate into violence and that our people are safe because we have a lot of Wet’suwet’en people working on the ground with contractors for Coastal GasLink,” said Chief Ogen. “I just want to make sure all of our Wet’suwet’en people are safe out there and I’m sure that’s what the position of the police would be too.”

Tensions in the long simmering dispute were highlighted when the RCMP sat down for a four-hour meeting in Smithers recently with the protest group, a Wet’suwet’en clan or family group known as the Unist’ot’en, after some native leaders claimed the police were about to raid the camp.

The RCMP have denied there were any plans for a raid and have stressed police remain neutral in the conflict.

Underlying the dispute between the gas industry and the protesters is a complex political struggle within the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

While Chief Ogen, who represents the elected council, is in favour of the gas pipelines, Freda Huson, who represents the Unist’ot’en, is steadfastly opposed.

Ms. Huson claims the backing of several hereditary chiefs. But Chief Ogen says she has the support of both hereditary and elected chiefs.

In an interview, Chief Ogen said she hopes the matter can be resolved in a meeting she’s trying to set up involving the First Nations Leadership Council, a highly influential body that represents the political executives of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Summit and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

“Whether we compromise or find a way to get both of our needs met, we [the Wet’suwet’en and Unist’ot’en] are one people and we should be able to sit down and have a discussion,” said Chief Ogen. “My position is we want to sit down … and have the Leadership Council neutral in all of this and help us find a resolve.

The Wet’suwet’en, a First Nation that claims about 55,000 square kilometres of land in the Burns Lake area, lie directly on the routes of the 480-kilometre Pacific Trails Pipeline, proposed by Chevron Canada and Woodside Energy International Ltd., and TransCanada’s 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline. The pipelines would link rich northeast gas fields with a planned LNG facility in Kitimat.

Recently Unist’ot’en protestors blocked Coastal GasLink crews from accessing the area, and the company filed a complaint with the RCMP.

In an interview from the protest camp, Ms. Huson said the Unist’ot’en intend to maintain the protest camp – and she’s not interested in attending the meeting Chief Ogen is trying to set up.

She said the Unistot’ot’en function under the traditional hereditary chief system, while Chief Ogen gets her authority though an electoral process established by the federal government.

“Our government structure is around the [traditional] feast hall, it’s not around a [elected band council] boardroom table,” she said. “So if Chief Ogen or anybody else wants to discuss business on our territory they need to come to our feast hall.”

Gillian Robinson-Riddell, a spokesperson for Chevron Canada Ltd., said the company is hoping a peaceful settlement can be reached.

“Throughout the years we have always maintained that it’s our hope to see this blockade resolved through dialogue and discussion. So we’re continuing to work to see that happen,” she said.

Mark Cooper, a spokesman for TransCanada, said in an e-mail his company wants to continue work in the area.

“We have been conducting important environmental fieldwork along the proposed pipeline route for months,” he stated. “Our goal is to carry out this seasonal work in the safest possible manner for our staff, contractors and First Nations participants.”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/potential-pipeline-clash-worries-first-nation-chief-in-bc/article26244455/

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Wet’suwet’en Chiefs Challenge Recent Unist’ot’en Camp Media Coverage

Wet’suwet’en First Nation Chief Karen Ogen.

Wet’suwet’en First Nation Chief Karen Ogen.

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 Unistoten 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

http://www.kcentv.com/story/29923546/wetsuweten-chiefs-say-unistoten-do-not-speak-for-their-nations