Wet’suwet’en pipeline supporters feel shut out of talks
Elected band chiefs and women of the Wet'suwet'en nation questioned why they were not in meetings regarding the pipeline dispute
Federal cabinet ministers are facing pointed questions about why elected band chiefs and women of the Wet’suwet’en nation who support a disputed natural-gas pipeline in British Columbia were not in meetings aimed at reducing tensions.
At a parliamentary committee on March 10, Conservative MPs pressed Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller over the meetings and how band-council chiefs who had signed deals for a project they believed would benefit their communities felt shut out of the talks.
Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en nation in northern B.C. oppose the route the pipeline would take through their traditional territory and their protests sparked solidarity blockades on roads and rail lines across the country for weeks.
Two weeks ago, Bennett and B.C.’s Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser met with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Three days of meetings resulted in a tentative deal on land and title rights among the federal and provincial governments and hereditary chiefs, which effectively ended the blockades last week.
Details of the draft accord have not been disclosed and the government has said it will remain confidential unless it is ratified by the Wet’suwet’en people in their traditional processes, which was expected to take up to two weeks.
Bennett told the committee she did not go to B.C. to discuss the pipeline, which is a provincially approved project. She was there to negotiate land and title rights generally, pointing to a 1997 Supreme Court decision that she says recognizes hereditary leaders as the overall voice for those discussions.
Bennett said she is willing to meet with others from the community on the issue, but added the Wet’suwet’en have to decide amongst themselves how they want to move forward, rather than being directed by Ottawa.
“We have said from the beginning these decisions will be taken in the Wet’suwet’en nation, by the Wet’suwet’en people in their way, and that means in their houses, in their clans,” Bennett told reporters.
“It isn’t about the province of British Columbia or Canada, this is a nation decision as to whether what has been a proposed arrangement as to how we would move forward on the implementation of their rights and title – whether that is agreeable to their nation.”
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