Since 2008, Warner Naziel has gone by his traditional name, Toghestiy. It means “man who sits beside the water”.
As one of the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en nation, he takes neither tradition nor his duties lightly.
On November 20, 2012, Toghestiy did what his ancestors would have done to people not welcome in their territory. Confronting surveyors for a gas pipeline planned in Northern B.C, he handed them an eagle feather in accordance with Wet’suwet’en law. It was the first and final warning that anyone involved with the Pacific Trail Pipelines isn’t allowed to return.
According to Toghestiy, whose views do not represent those of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, his forebears didn’t look kindly on anyone who ignores such warning.
“In the old days, our people dealt with that with death,” Toghestiy told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview on March 28 during a stop in Vancouver.
Nowadays, he’s “not too sure exactly” what will happen if proponents of the Pacific Trail Pipelines take no heed.
“If they want to test it, they can go ahead,” Toghestiy said. “But this is something that our ancestors have done for thousands of years. They’ve given us more and more reasons to evoke all of our old laws again because, you know, we’re not gone. We’re not extinct. We’re still here. We’re living on our lands.”
The Pacific Trail Pipelines is part of a bigger joint venture between Chevron Canada and Apache Canada Ltd. The 463-kilometre pipeline will deliver gas from Summit Lake, B.C., to a liquefied-natural-gas (LNG) facility in Kitimat.
With a capacity of 10 million tonnes per year, the Kitimat LNG plant is seen as, potentially, the first of its size in Canada to export to Asian markets.
“We have all of our environmental-assessment certificates and our export permits,” Gillian Riddell, a spokesperson for Chevron and Kitimat LNG, told the Straight in a phone interview.
According to Riddell, a final investment decision will be made after the province lays down a tax framework for the LNG industry.
“We’re also looking for greater cost certainty, because the project is still in the front-end engineering-and-design phase,” she said.
Riddell added that 15 First Nations are on board as partners in the pipeline project.
She noted that proponents are aware that a group of Wet’suwet’en people have set up a camp blocking the route of the Pacific Trail Pipelines.
“We would always welcome them to meet with us, and we have that invitation extended,” Riddell said. “We believe that it’s very possible to develop this project in a way that protects people and the environment and, of course, respects First Nations rights.”
Toghestiy said that he has lived in the camp in the path of the pipeline for the past 21 months and that he and his companions are not budging.
“Our ancestors are behind us in this fight because we’ve never, ever given up our lands,” he continued. “We’ve never given up our responsibilities. We’ve never surrendered our rights to anybody. Our lands are our lands and they always will be.”
On Friday (April 4), Toghestiy will speak at a Vancouver event to kick off a three-day antipipeline training event organized by Rising Tide: Vancouver Coast Salish Territories. It starts at 6 p.m. at the Russian Hall (600 Campbell Avenue).