SMITHERS—A tentative agreement has been reached to ensure the safety of Wet’suwet’en members on their territory while Coastal GasLink begins pre-construction on its pipeline project.
But Chief Na’moks, also known as John Ridsdale, was unequivocal Thursday that hereditary chiefs for whom he spoke were firmly and unrelentingly opposed to the project, and would continue to fight it.
“We are still here and we’re upholding our rights, our title … our law, our way,” he said after hours of meetings that included Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and representatives from Coastal GasLink and the RCMP. “We are the people here. We are not invading them. We are here to protect our land, our people, our culture.”
The agreement was strictly between the RCMP and Wet’suwet’en, the chief said. Coastal GasLink was invited to the table essentially to listen. What had been agreed upon with police was access, he said.
Wet’suwet’en people will no longer be stuck behind an RCMP blockade, set up Monday ahead of police enforcement of an injunction to disband the Gitimt’en checkpoint.
The RCMP have agreed to maintain a presence at the Unist’ot’en checkpoint to ensure the safety of Wet’suwet’en people at the nearby healing lodge, he said.
Meanwhile, no further charges will be sought against Wet’suwet’en people, and those who were charged for standing ground as police moved at the checkpoint Monday are “making their way home” with the full support of the hereditary chiefs, Chief Na’moks said.
“They are our people,” he said. “They did what they did on our behalf. We will stand with them.”
He reiterated a number of times during a statement following the meetings that the people on whose behalf he spoke viewed this agreement strictly as a safety measure, to prevent a repeat of Monday’s enforcement action.
They in no way consider it “consultation or accommodation of any sense.”
Moments earlier, Rick Gateman, president of Coastal GasLink, thanked the hereditary chiefs for their hospitality in a separate address, saying he was grateful to have been invited to discuss ways to move forward.
“I can say that our discussions were extremely respectful and extremely productive,” he told reporters.
While the elected band council of the nearby Wet’suwet’en First Nation supports the pipeline project, all five of the clans that make up the territorial nation are revolting against the decision. The clan chiefs, who inherit their positions but are still considered integral leaders of their communities, say the First Nation’s band council only has jurisdiction over the reserve, not the entire traditional territories.
Each Wet’suwet’en clan is made up of a number of houses, also headed by hereditary chiefs. These house chiefs unanimously supported a decision to block Coastal GasLink from entering their territories, citing Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That article says Indigenous Peoples must not be “forcibly removed” from their territories.
Perrin Grauer is a Vancouver-based reporter covering community issues and Canada’s drug policies. Follow him on Twitter: @perringrauer