FILE – Marching down Main Street in Smithers. B.C. chiefs gather in Smithers to support Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ position on Unist’ot’en camp and opposition to Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline. (Chris Gareau photo)

FILE – Marching down Main Street in Smithers. B.C. chiefs gather in Smithers to support Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ position on Unist’ot’en camp and opposition to Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline. (Chris Gareau photo)

VIDEO: Wet’suwet’en chiefs, ministers reach proposed agreement in B.C. pipeline dispute

Chief Woos, one of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders, says the proposal represents an important milestone

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and senior government ministers reached a proposed arrangement Sunday following days of discussions over a pipeline dispute that prompted solidarity protests and transport disruptions across Canada.

Details of the draft deal, which centres on Indigenous rights and land titles, were not disclosed, however, and work on the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline at the heart of the dispute was set to resume Monday.

Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said they made progress during the talks.

“We, I believe, have come to a proposed arrangement that will also honour the protocols of the Wet’suwet’en people and clans,” Bennett said in a news conference in Smithers, B.C. “What we’ve worked on this weekend needs to go back to those clans and then we have agreed as ministers that we will come back to sign if it is agreed upon by the Nation.”

She said the proposal is about making sure “that this never happens again, that rights holders will always be at the table.”

British Columbia Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser said the talks have helped address the rights and title of the Wet’suwet’en, but there’s still a “disagreement” over the natural gas pipeline going through traditional territory.

Chief Woos, one of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders, said the draft represents a milestone for everyone involved but that it hasn’t satisfied all of their concerns.

He stressed that the hereditary chiefs remain opposed to the pipeline in their traditional territory.

“We are going to be continuing to look at some more conversations with B.C. and of course with the proponent and further conversation with the RCMP out on the territory,” Woos said. “It’s not over yet. We are just looking at more work in that area.”

Shortly after the proposal was announced, Coastal GasLink issued a statement saying it would resume construction activities in the Morice River area, which is near the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre, on 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,” president David Pfeiffer said in the statement.

He added the company “remains committed to dialogue and engagement” with all Indigenous groups along its route.

“We are encouraged by Chief Woos statement that he is open to dialogue and look forward to an opportunity to meet with the hereditary chiefs,” Pfeiffer said.

The company had agreed to pause construction during the talks between the hereditary chiefs and the ministers, which began Thursday.

RCMP had also pledged to cease patrols along the Morice West Forest Service Road during the discussions. The Mounties did not respond to requests for comment Sunday.

The dispute over the pipeline has spurred solidarity protests across the country that have disrupted passenger and freight train service over the last three weeks. Police have recently moved to dismantle some of the blockades.

The Wet’suwet’en are governed by both a traditional hereditary chief system and elected band councils. A majority of its councils have approved the pipeline, but some of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose it running through their traditional territory.

Gary Naziel, a Wet’suwet’en hereditary subchief who wants the pipeline built, said he hasn’t seen the proposed arrangement.

“What’s done behind closed doors hasn’t been shared yet,” he said. “But it will be settled in the Feast Hall — all this stuff that’s been going on has to come to Feast Hall. We will deal with it there.”

Naziel said no date has been set to discuss the proposal, but he noted it’s a good first step and he’s satisfied that the pipeline is going ahead.

READ MORE: Wet’suwet’en supporters of pipeline don’t think their message is being heard

“The projects are going forward so that way we can get the benefits for our education and language,” he said. “If everybody is satisfied, that’s fine by me. Internally we need to fix things in the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

“We already know we had titles and rights to this land. We know we own this land. We didn’t have to send people across the country and start riots and all this. They said it was peaceful blockades but it was far from peaceful in some places.”

The dispute also involves other unsettled land rights and title issues, including who has the right to negotiate with governments and corporations, the fact that the land is not covered by a treaty and remains unceded, and a 1997 court case that recognized the hereditary chiefs’ authority and the exclusive right of the Wet’suwet’en peoples to the land but did not specify the boundaries.

Lawyer Peter Grant, who represented the Wet’suwet’en and neighbouring Gitxsan First Nation, said the proposal is not a treaty.

“It’s a draft arrangement, but I think it’s very powerful,” he said.

The secretary of the Mohawk Nation of Kahnawake said activists have decided to maintain their rail blockade on the territory south of Montreal, at least for now.

Kenneth Deer said the Mohawks want more clarification on the agreement between the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the federal government before making a final decision.

“It’s a big decision to decide to take down the barricade or not, and they want to make sure they have everything before they make a decision,” he said Sunday outside the entrance to the barricade, where Mohawk flags flew from a tent and pointed wooden shelter protected by low concrete barriers.

READ MORE: Ministers optimistic as talks with Wet’suwet’en chiefs continue for third day

Deer, who said he’s been in contact with hereditary chiefs, said there were good things that came out of the meeting in B.C., as well as “some things that were not so good.”

He said the agreement includes discussions on who are custodians of the land, as well as a recognition of the hereditary chiefs, which he described as “significant.”

“However, the pipeline is not resolved, and that a very big issue, not only for the Wet’suwet’en chiefs but for everybody,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 1, 2020.

— with files from Colette Derworiz in Edmonton and Morgan Lowrie in Kahnawake

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coastal GasLinkIndigenousPipeline

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Shannon Davis, manager at Sidney’s Star Cinema, holds up the largest available bag of popcorn available for sale at the theatre. It also also sells four smaller sizes in generating revenue following its closure last fall because of COVID-19. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney theatre fills bottom line with popcorn sales

Theatre applying to return to doing our household-only private rentals

Don Devenney is a Goldstream Gazette 2021 Local Hero as Community Builder of the year. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
West Shore volunteer’s efforts an exercise in adventurous pursuits

Don Devenney is the 2021 recipient of the Community Builder Award

Sergeant Francis Dion with the box containing HMCS Calgary’s new secret mascot costume. (HMCSNCSMCalgary/Facebook)
The value of new construction in North Saanich topped $52.1 million in 2020 (Peninsula News Review)
Value of new construction in North Saanich topped $52.1 million in 2020

New figures also show 25 per cent increase in number of new secondary suites

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Feb. 23

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media File Photo)
POLL: Are you struggling with Greater Victoria’s cost of housing?

While Victoria remains one of the most expensive cities in the country… Continue reading

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is preparing a rapid response team proposal for submission to the B.C. Ministry of Education. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district chosen as COVID-19 rapid response team

Team to consist of SD68 and Island Health staff, according to B.C. Ministry of Education

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Most Read