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Review of proposed deal with Wet'suwet'en Nation could take weeks

Last Updated Mar 2, 2020 at 10:13 am PDT

FILE - Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs from left, Rob Alfred, John Ridsdale, centre and Antoinette Austin, who oppose the Costal GasLink pipeline take part in a rally in Smithers B.C., on Friday January 10, 2020. The Wet'suwet'en hereditary clan chiefs and their supporters want a public investigation into the way the RCMP are controlling access along a rural road in northern British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

The proposed agreement between ministers and hereditary chiefs in under review by Wet'suwet'en people

The public is still in the dark as to the details, which seem to focus more on rights and titles

Coastal GasLink still has provincial permits to build and will continue work starting Monday

WET’SUWET’EN (NEWS 1130) — Weeks of solidarity protests could come to an end if the Wet’suwet’en people accept the proposed agreement reached after three days of meetings between ministers and hereditary chiefs in Smithers, B.C.

The public is still in the dark as to the details, which seem to focus more on rights and title and what happens next time an energy company wants to put a project through traditional territory.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip with the BC Union of Indian Chiefs says while progress has been made during the talks over the weekend, the dispute over Coastal GasLink’s 670-kilometre LNG pipeline is not settled.

“The issue of the pipeline and the presence of the RCMP (vis-a-vis Coastal GasLink’s efforts to push through the pipeline) are still very much outstanding,” he says.

He says he believes there has been some agreement reached on broader issues of land rights but those details will likely take weeks to be reviewed by house chiefs.

“Because of the importance of this we want to bring this back to our houses and we’re going to be working on that within two weeks,” says hereditary Chief Woss.

He says the agreement picks up where Delgamuukw, a 1997 Supreme Court Ruling that recognized Wesuweten rights and title, left off.

The Delgamuukw case was fought by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their Gitxsan neighbours, but the ruling fell short of recognizing the boundaries of the territory to which their title applies.

Meanwhile, Woos says he is in no position to ask solidarity protests to stop, adding Indigenous people have faced indignity and racism and have to make their own decisions.

“People out there are expressing through peaceful demonstrations that something is wrong, something is not right here,” he says.

A joint statement issued Sunday by Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Woos, Scott Fraser, B.C.’s Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, and Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, says no agreement was reached on the pipeline.

“On the Coastal GasLink project, the parties engaged in direct discussions and explored means to come to a resolution. The Province agreed to provide further information on the project. All parties at the table recognize that the differences relating to the CGL project remain.”

“With respect to rights and title, the parties focused intensely on commitments to an expedited process to implement Wet’suwet’en rights and title. The result of these discussions was a draft arrangement that will be reviewed by the Wet’suwet’en clan members through Wet’suwet’en governance protocols for ratification,” the statement continues.

One outstanding question is how this agreement might impact the standing and jurisdiction of elected chiefs and council as governed by the Indian Act.

It’s unclear what Wet’suwet’en protocol would be to ratify this agreement but many members say they feel their voices are not being heard. People both for and against the project say they have been bullied and silenced by those who disagree with them.

Despite the draft agreement, there’s no sign a rail blockade in Ontario will be coming down. Mohawk demonstrators say they are staying put until they receive “more clarification” from Wet’suwet’en leaders.

Coastal GasLink still has provincial permits to build and will continue work starting Monday.

“Coastal GasLink 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,” says a statement posted to the company’s website.

Meanwhile, the federal Conservative Party’s Indigenous-Crown Relations critic says his party needs to repair its relationship with Indigenous peoples, including potentially moving away from the Indian Act.

With files from Lisa Steacy and Paul James