VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It appears the first day of long-awaited discussions between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and senior government ministers went well.
The talks are expected to continue in northern B.C. Friday morning, after the first sit-down on Thursday lasted three hours.
Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser arrived in Smithers Thursday to kick off the meetings, which surround a pipeline impasse that has sparked protests across the country for weeks.
The hereditary chiefs said the meeting is a “first step,” while Fraser called the talks productive, noting the mood in the room was respectful.
Chiefs did, however, note that both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan declined invitations to discuss the Coastal GasLink project.
“I have met with the hereditary leaders, not once but twice over the past year and a half and I am absolutely prepared to sit down and dialogue with the hereditary leaders, but it’s important that there be the conditions for constructive dialogue,” Horgan told reporters ahead of the meeting.
Five hereditary chiefs have taken issue with the project, which would see part of a 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline be built on the Wet’suwe’ten territory.
Rail blockades and other protests have caused disruptions across Canada.
Horgan has said the issue’s been the most challenging one faced by his administration. However, he stressed his government remains committed to reconciliation and to upholding the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
“I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that this has been easy for me or my government, or the people of B.C., but change was necessary and that’s why we drove hard on the [UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People],” he said. “Not so that we could make amends for the past, but so that we could build a better future, and when I look at the inventory of issues when it comes to reconciliation that we’ve been able to bring forward it’s profound.”
The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs agreed to sit down with the ministers after two of their longstanding conditions were met for the duration of the scheduled talks. Coastal GasLink agreed to a two-day pause in its activities, while the RCMP committed to ending patrols along a critical roadway while the negotiations unfold.
Horgan has said the project will go ahead, despite opposition, adding it remains in B.C.’s interest.