Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs reach proposed agreement with provincial and federal governments
There could be a breakthrough in a land dispute that has had economic ramifications across Canada.
Today, a Wet'suwet'en hereditary chief and the federal and provincial ministers who oversee their governments' relations with Indigenous peoples said there's a proposed agreement.
They've been meeting in Smithers, B.C., since Thursday (February 27) to discuss their dispute over the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
Neither Chief Woos nor the ministers, Carolyn Bennett and Scott Fraser, would divulge any details until the proposed agreement is reviewed by Wet'suwet'en people.
However, Globe and Mail reporter Brent Jang has tweeted that the proposed arrangement would ensure that the B.C. and federal governments would recognize the Wet'suwet'en Nation's hereditary governance structure.
The former spokesperson for the Gidimt'en Camp, Molly Wickham, a.k.a. Sleydo', told CBC that this proposed agreement does not address the presence of the RCMP on unceded traditional Wet'suwet'en territory or the Coastal GasLink pipeline construction.
Bennett is the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous relations; Fraser is the provincial minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation.
In a joint statement, they acknowledged that all three parties in the discussions "recognize that the differences relating to the CGL project remain".
Coastal GasLink issued its own statement today, saying it "appreciates that a path has been identified to address significant issues of Aboriginal Title and Rights of the Wet'suwet'en people while recognizing that Coastal GasLink is fully permitted and remains on track for a 2023 in-service date".
"Coastal GasLink will resume construction activities in the Morice River area on Monday, March 2 following the four-day pause to allow for constructive dialogue between the parties," the company said.
In the past, the hereditary chiefs have argued in favour of an alternative Coastal GasLink pipeline route that would bypass the headwaters of the Wezin'kwa (Morice and Bulkley rivers).
The hereditary chiefs repeatedly said that it's illegal under Wet'suwet'en law to develop a pipeline along Coastal GasLink's preferred route on unceded territory because their society is so integrally linked with salmon runs and having access to their territories.
But in 2014, B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office approved a pipeline route that was vehemently opposed by the hereditary chiefs.
The company has maintained that it prioritized "the best option for the environment and surrounding communities, as well as the safe delivery of natural gas from the Dawson Creek to Kitimat areas".
B.C. premier John Horgan has insisted that Coastal GasLink's $6.6-billion pipeline will be completed and he's given zero indication that he favours forcing the company to put its pipeline in a different area.
Five Wet'suwet'en elected councils have signed benefits agreements with the pipeline companies. These elected councils only have jurisdiction over reserves created under the Indian Act and not over unceded traditional Wet'suwet'en territory.
The pipeline is part of a $40-billion private-sector infrastructure project that includes a liquefied natural-gas plant in Kitimat. The LNG Canada consortium's partners are Shell, Mitsubishi, and state-owned oil and gas companies in South Korea, China, and Malaysia.
In the 1990s, the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to establish that Aboriginal title wasn't extinguished at Confederation.
When the RCMP began arresting Wet'suwet'en people and their invited guests on their traditional unceded territory in northern B.C. in early February to enforce a B.C. Supreme Court injunction, their allies initiated various solidarity actions, blocking railways, roads, and ports.
The injunction had been obtained by Coastal GasLink.
At the time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in the midst of a tour of various countries to drum up support for Canada's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. But he put the trip on hold to deal with the growing crisis at home.