Wet'suwet'en chiefs distance First Nation from Unist'ot'en camp, urge cooperation with pipeline companies

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      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.”

      A video posted on Vimeo shows how tensions between Unist'ot'en camp members and RCMP officers have intensified in recent months.

      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.

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      Aug 31, 2015 at 11:13am

      I think a confusing part of this article and what's missing from whole story is the difference between Karen Ogen's Indian Band which used to be named the "Broman Lake Indian Band" and renamed itself the "Wet'suwet'en First Nation". The "Wet'suwet'en" as a whole include what is currently five separate Indian Bands. This is like Prince Edward Island deciding to rename itself "Canada" and the world thinking decisions/policies supported by that Province speak for the whole country.

      Second to that... Aboriginal rights & title have been proven to apply to pre-existing social and political structures -- in this case -- the clan structure. The Unist'ot'en clan do have prexisting title and rights to the land they are occupying and enforcing their laws in. The Indian Bands who are pro-LNG want to circumvent these traditional and historical laws in favour of resource extraction and increased profits for their bands. This press release by the pro-LNG Indian Act politicians attempt to discredit the Unist'ot'en is disgusting and desperate.

      In trying to cover the issue fairly, I think extra care needs to be made to explain this basic information to readers because this is not being explained well by many in the media and adding to the confusion.


      Aug 31, 2015 at 11:44am

      This is interesting politically. But I think the famous Delgamuukw supreme court ruling says clans such as Unist'ot'en have primary legal jurisdiction over land use decisions on their territory, and not the band councils. It is also not at all clear that these four band council chiefs can claim to represent "the First Nation as a whole."

      The Wetsuweten clans have changed Canadian legal history before, and may be about to do so again.

      Russ Diabo

      Aug 31, 2015 at 12:09pm

      I concur with the previous comments. The Supreme Court of Canada's 1997 Delgamuukw/Gusdayway decision was brought by Hereditary Chiefs not the AANDC Program Chiefs who administer on-reserve programs. The SCC 2014 Tsilhqot'in decision reinforces the 1997 decision. It appears to me the 4 Wet'su'wet'en Indian Act Chiefs are just trying to curry favour with Crown & industry.


      Aug 31, 2015 at 5:25pm

      Thank you for this article and to you all for your comments. Very important topic and its great to have the legal clarification, when there is so much at stake, amidst all kinds of posturing. Hopefully people will awake to the reality of Green energy jobs as a way forward for all of us, including the Planet. We do not need fossil fuels and the resulting pollution. Canada needs to look to Iceland and Germany for benign alternatives.

      If it's all about the Money...

      Aug 31, 2015 at 7:14pm

      Surely, we can raise enough money through public donations to match what LNG is offering?

      elsie tom

      Aug 31, 2015 at 8:45pm

      Two way street runs no where my dad's trap line is up there on chisolm road already distroyed way before this all began no one help us fight get it back here so much people with names try n put under their names there you two way not getting no where the secret will prevail

      Karl Frost

      Aug 31, 2015 at 10:36pm

      To add on to a previous comments, the Office of the Wet'suet'en stands firmly behind the Unist'ot'en. The 'Wet'suet'en First Nation' mentioned in this article is a band council, and the article is therefore very misleading. This, of course, was the purpose of this band council renaming itself this, to provoke confusion and to claim rights they don't have.

      Finally, the Delgamuukw Supreme Court ruling does not just affirm the rights of clans 'like' the Unist'ot'en. It names Knedabaes, the clan chief of the Unist'ot'en, by name as the legitimate authority for the land in question. THERE IS NO QUESTION IN CANADIAN LAW ABOUT WHOSE AIUTHORITY STAND ON THIS TERRITORY.

      You owe your readers a formal correction to this article.


      Sep 1, 2015 at 12:26am

      Support for the Unist'ot'en clan is literally coming from ALL OVER CANADA! Where were these Wet'suwet'en during the Oka crisis or during the Ipperwash incident? NOW you show up as a voice for another clan??

      Isn't that a bit like ME saying, "ignore my neighbour's rights; dig up his lawn"?

      In the end if you support such thought processes some jerk will come along, target YOUR community in the SAME WAY and YOU might not take very well to the idea (especially in the dead of winter when food is scarce.)

      Yes, I am a white pagan but I am trying to understand how it is that Wet'suwet'en have any say in the matters of the Unist'ot'en clan. At best you can say "oh well, we (the chiefs) don't support that idea" but in fact you still have the same power as I would; sure you can SAY that YOU either support or don't support them. but in the end you have no REAL SAY in the matter.

      To the newspaper I ask, how many OTHER native clans have you asked for opinions?

      Earl Richards

      Sep 1, 2015 at 6:42am

      Potentially, explosive LNG pipelines have to be kept away from populated areas.


      Sep 1, 2015 at 6:42pm

      It's an interesting situation to think about. Those of us who don't make our living in single-industry, resource-extraction towns have the luxury of decrying the evil, top-hatted capitalist, at the risk of forgetting that trade pays for everything. Standards are important, safety is important, but if you're going to stick people in the middle of the bush and not let them sell the stuff under it, you're condemning them to a welfare lifestyle. That's not ok either.