The Pacific Trail Pipelines project is pitting the Wet’suwet’en people against each other.
Some are opposed to a section of the 463-kilometre gas pipeline crossing their traditional territories in northwest B.C.
But others welcome the joint venture of Chevron Canada and Apache Canada Ltd. as a means to escape poverty.
They’re bound by old ancestral ties, but divided over modern resource development.
“We’re all Wet’suwet’en,” Chief Karen Ogen told the Straight in a phone interview.
Ogen leads the erstwhile Broman Lake Indian Band. Currently known as the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, her community is a partner in the pipeline project, one of many planned for B.C.’s nascent liquefied natural gas industry.
“We have a choice to either maintain the status quo in our community, keep things as they are, keep the social issues and people on high rates of income assistance, or we could look at this as an opportunity to move our nation forward,” she said.
According to Ogen, the Pacific Trail Pipelines project offers jobs and skills training.
Now in her second term, Ogen recalled that before she was first elected chief in July 2010, the Wet’suwet’en First Nation had already signed a deal with the proponents of the pipeline.
“I have 241 members to look out for and look out for their best interest,” Ogen said.
The Wet’suwet’en First Nation is part of the larger Wet’suwet’en nation.
According to the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, which represents the traditional governance system of hereditary chiefs, there are five communities of Wet’suwet’en people. In addition to the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, there are the Hagwilget, Moricetown, Skin Tyee, and Nee Tahi Buhn.
In a statement released on December 17, 2013, the hereditary chiefs affirmed their opposition to gas and oil pipelines
“We have a responsibility to all living things and to the unborn generations,” David de Wit, natural resource manager of the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, stated. “The health and well being of the people and Yintah ‘traditional land’ are paramount. It does not take a pipeline rupture or spill to have an impact to our Title and Rights.”
In the statement, De Wit also added, “Just the proposed construction alone will impact the water quality, fish habitat and wildlife abundance. We have never stated that we are against resource development, however, after careful consideration weighing the risks and potential benefits, We are opposing proposed pipelines on our Yintah.”
The Office of the Wet’suwet’en did not make a representative available for an interview by deadline.
According to Warner Naziel, a Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief widely known as Toghestiy, his clan, the Likhts’amisyu, as well as his wife’s clan, the Unist’ot’en, are no longer associated with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en.
“They were in the business of signing smaller agreements with mining companies without consulting the membership, so the Unist’ot’en stepped away, and the Likhts’amisyu clan, both stepped away from the table a few years ago,” Toghestiy related in a phone interview with the Straight.
While the two clans have some disagreements with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, they’re both opposed to the Pacific Trail Pipelines.
Toghestiy and his wife, Freda Huson, occupy a camp built on the pipeline’s route. They and their supporters have vowed to stop the pipeline from going through.
Toghestiy noted that the Wet’suwet’en First Nation’s name tends to give the impression that “they’re the actual Wet’suwet’en nation, but they’re not”.
“They’re just a small band,” Toghestiy said.
Chief Ogen is aware about what Toghestiy and his group are doing.
“Everybody has the right to their opinion, and I respect their position,” Ogen said.
As for her stance on the Pacific Trail Pipelines, Ogen is firm: “It will provide a sustainable living for our community members.”