The Wet'suwet'en First Nation saw a massive groundswell of support from across British Columbia following rumours that the RCMP was preparing to move on a camp that stands in the way of proposed gas and oil pipelines.
But not everybody within the Wet'suwet'en Nation is happy about that, including four elected chiefs.
Today (August 31), Wet'suwet'en chief Karen Ogen, Nee Tahi Buhn chief Ray Morris, Burns Lake Band chief Dan George, and Skin Tyee Nation chief Rene Skin issued a media release that distances the First Nation as a whole from the camp’s actions. Going further, it denounces the camp’s goal of blocking pipeline developments.
"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," said Ogen, who is described as a spokesperson for the First Nations LNG Alliance, a group that supports LNG development.
George is quoted making a similar statement: "Our Nations support responsible resource development as a way to bring First Nations out of poverty and bring opportunities for our young people,” he said.
The four chiefs who put their names behind the August 31 release are council chiefs who were elected to their positions. They have long stood in opposition to the Unist'ot'en camp, which is supported by Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs.
The council chiefs' comments come as tensions mount around a settlement of Wet'suwet'en people and environmental activists based at the Unist'ot’en camp, a settlement that some members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation began constructing in northwestern B.C. in 2010.
The Unist'ot’en camp’s location was strategically selected to obstruct the path planned for the Pacific Trail natural gas pipeline. The settlement was later expanded in opposition to the Northern Gateway oil pipeline, which would follow a similar route across the province.
Camp members have seen a number of confrontations with RCMP officers and with employees working for oil and gas corporations. Last week, rumours were raised by such groups as the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) that warned of a large-scale RCMP action against the camp.
As the Straight reported on August 27, that prompted the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) to send a letter to the RCMP warning against “an impending, and possibly large-scale, RCMP action in relation to the Unist'ot'en camp”.
“We understand that the RCMP may have already taken a decision, or be about to take a decision, that the RCMP will move in and remove people from the Unist'ot'en camp by force if necessary,” the BCCLA letter reads. “If we are mistaken in this, we hope that the RCMP will clarify this with the public immediately. We are deeply concerned that such an approach would be disastrous and would not respect the constitutionally-protected Title and Rights of the Unist'ot'en, as well as their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
On August 28, the RCMP issued a statement denying the police force intends to dismantle the Unist’ot’en camp.
“The BC RCMP respects the rights of individuals to peacefully protest,” said Cpl. Janelle Shoihet quoted in a media release. “To clarify, the BC RCMP has no intention of ‘taking down the camp’ set up by the Unist’ot’en. We value the Wet’suwet’en culture, the connection to the land and traditions being taught and passed on at the camp, and the importance of the camp to healing.”
The BCCLA’s warning followed the publication of a similar letter signed by a long list of organizations ranging from environmentalists to civil-liberties advocates that’s titled, “We Stand with the Unist’ot’en”.
Those groups include Greenpeace Canada, the UBCIC, Idle No More, and the SFU Institute for the Humanities, as well as individuals including David Suzuki, Naomi Klein, and federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May.
That letter claims the Unist'ot'en camp enjoys significant support. “We are deeply and gravely concerned to learn from a variety of sources that the RCMP appear to be on the verge of executing a highly provocative and dangerously reckless operational plan to make arrests,” it reads.
The statement issued today by the four Wet'suwet'en chiefs includes a response to that letter.
“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 Unist'ot'en petition,” it reads.
It then quotes Skin: "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,” he said. “This issue needs to be resolved by the Wet'suwet'en people, and not by others who hold no interest in our land.”
The August 31 letter suggests the proposed pipeline developments could be constructed in ways that allow the Unist’ot’en camp to remain where it stands today.