Wet'suwet'en strike tentative deal with RCMP allowing access to protect camp

Image: Wet'suwet'en Nation

HOUSTON, B.C. — Hereditary leaders of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation have reached a tentative deal with RCMP, quelling some fears of escalation after police made several arrests at nearby checkpoint earlier this week.

The chiefs say members will abide by a court injunction granting the Coastal GasLink pipeline company access to a bridge that had been blocked, if RCMP agree to leave intact the nearby Unist'ot'en healing camp in northern British Columbia.

They plan to meet with RCMP again Thursday to discuss details such as retaining a gate that residents and supporters of the camp say is vital to their safety.

Chief Na'Moks told residents, supporters and media gathered at the camp Wednesday that the decision has nothing to do with the pipeline company and everything to do with ensuring the safety of residents at the camp.

“We want them to be able to sleep at night, we want them to go to bed knowing they will not be disturbed,” he said.

Residents and supporters say the healing camp was established in 2010 and is an important place for people to heal and connect with the land.

On Monday, 14 people were arrested after the Mounties took apart a different gate that blocked access to an area where Coastal GasLink wants to build its natural gas pipeline.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline would run through the Wet'suwet'en territory to Kitimat, B.C., where LNG Canada is building a $40-billion export facility.

TransCanada says it has signed agreements with the elected councils of all 20 First Nations along the path, including the Wet'suwet'en.

New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen, who represents the area, said the conflict has been developing for years — in part because of a failure to recognize the nuances between elected and hereditary Indigenous governments.

He said Wet'suwet'en band councils have authority over reserves and services, while hereditary chiefs control activities on their traditional territories.

“This is the clash of two forms of government,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

Cullen believes the hereditary leadership is looking for guidance from the federal government and expects Ottawa to recognize and accommodate their rights and title.

“There is a whole series of Supreme Court (of Canada) decisions that say if there are established rights and title-holders, if you are going to infringe on those rights, then you have to justify and accommodate for it,” he said.

Trudeau was visiting Kamloops on Wednesday and told the CBC his government has been working on reconciliation, but the dispute over the pipeline is

still an ongoing process.”

Premier John Horgan said Wednesday when plans for the LNG export facility were announced in October the B.C. government concluded all the conditions for the project to proceed had been met. He said the government was mindful of the opposition at the Unist'ot'en camp but has been in dialogue with the hereditary chiefs.

© 2019 The Canadian Press