Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller wait to appear before the Indigenous and Northern Affairs committee in Ottawa, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller wait to appear before the Indigenous and Northern Affairs committee in Ottawa, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

VIDEO: Wet’suwet’en pipeline supporters feel shut out of talks, ministers told

Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en nation in northern B.C. oppose the route the pipeline would take

Federal cabinet ministers are facing pointed questions about why elected band chiefs and women of the Wet’suwet’en nation who support a disputed natural-gas pipeline in British Columbia were not in meetings aimed at reducing tensions.

At a parliamentary committee Tuesday, Conservative MPs pressed Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller over the meetings and how band-council chiefs who had signed deals for a project they believed would benefit their communities felt shut out of the talks.

Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en nation in northern B.C. oppose the route the pipeline would take through their traditional territory and their protests sparked solidarity blockades on roads and rail lines across the country for weeks.

Only the voices of those who are against the Coastal GasLink pipeline were part of the late-February meetings in B.C., said Conservative critic Jamie Schmale.

“Given the issue of title has effects on the Coastal GasLink project as well as the elected bodies within the nation, would it not have made sense to include those elected members in the meetings, rather than creating divisions within the community?”

Two weeks ago, Bennett and B.C.’s Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser met with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Three days of meetings resulted in a tentative deal on land and title rights among the federal and provincial governments and hereditary chiefs, which effectively ended the blockades last week.

Details of the draft accord have not been disclosed and the government has said it will remain confidential unless it is ratified by the Wet’suwet’en people in their traditional processes, which was expected to take up to two weeks.

Not all Wet’suwet’en members are against the pipeline, including 20 elected band councils along the route that have signed deals with Coastal GasLink.

Conservative MP Bob Zimmer says his caucus has been hearing from these pro-pipeline residents who say the federal government is not hearing the whole story.

“They want to have a community discussion about the issue and when you go into a community and you only pick a very select few to talk to — just the ones who are opposed to the project … there’s a frustration that you’re only wanting one result by only meeting with that particular group and even some of the ones you met with are chiefs under suspect circumstances,” Zimmer said.

Several women in the Wet’suwet’en nation who were once hereditary chiefs were stripped of their titles in recent years and replaced by men, says Theresa Tait-Day of the Wet’suwet’en Matrilineal Coalition. She was among those who lost a hereditary title.

She told the committee Tuesday the chiefs who took part in the meetings with Ottawa and B.C. don’t speak for the whole nation, calling them “bullies” who have sidelined women in the community.

“The government has legitimized the meeting with the five hereditary chiefs and left out the entire community,” she said.

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

The chiefs who met the ministers have indicated they would take the draft agreement to the community to get consensus on whether to move forward. But Tait-Day said they have not held large public meetings, only smaller clan meetings of 20 or fewer people. She said she wants the federal government to help establish a better system within their nation to ensure everyone’s voice is heard.

“We need a mechanism as a nation that is democratic and inclusive where we can all make decisions about a project. We don’t have that system in place within the Wet’suwet’en,” she said.

The wishes of the community, including those who support the pipeline, have been hijacked by outside groups using the hereditary chiefs who are against the pipeline to block oil and gas projects in Canada, Tait-Day added.

“The hereditary chiefs feel that they have the support of the protesters and that the protesters agree with them. But it’s not about the protesters agreeing with them, it’s about our people getting a resource and a benefit from our land, which we went to court for.”

Bennett told the committee she did not go to B.C. to discuss the pipeline, which is a provincially approved project. She was there to negotiate land and title rights generally, pointing to a 1997 Supreme Court decision that she says recognizes hereditary leaders as the overall voice for those discussions.

That’s why the tentative deal that was reached does not deal with the pipeline itself, but aims instead to define more clearly the land and title rights of the Wet’suwet’en people in British Columbia, following the “Delgamuukw” decision.

READ MORE: Wet’suwet’en pipeline supporters speak up

In that case, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the existence of Aboriginal title as an exclusive and ancestral right to the land, but the ruling fell short of recognizing the boundaries of the territory to which Wet’suwet’en title applies.

Bennett she is willing to meet with others from the community on the issue, but added the Wet’suwet’en have to decide amongst themselves how they want to move forward, rather than being directed by Ottawa.

“We have said from the beginning these decisions will be taken in the Wet’suwet’en nation, by the Wet’suwet’en people in their way, and that means in their houses, in their clans,” Bennett told reporters.

“It isn’t about the province of British Columbia or Canada, this is a nation decision as to whether what has been a proposed arrangement as to how we would move forward on the implementation of their rights and title — whether that is agreeable to their nation.”

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coastal GasLinkIndigenousPipeline

Just Posted

The future of the Okanagan Lake watershed land use will be subject of a new study supported by a $300,000 grant from the Vancouver Foundation. (Contributed)
Grant to help develop Okanagan Lake protection strategy

Study receives $300,000 grant from the Vancouver Foundation.

COVID-19 virus. (Black Press Media file)
COVID-19 outbreak declared over at Kelowna retirement home

The outbreak at Sandalwood Retirement Resort was initially announced by Interior Health on April 23

City of West Kelowna. (Phil McLachlan - West K News)
City of West Kelowna approves funding application for outreach program

The program would support the community’s most vulnerable and those experiencing homelessness

The wildfire season in the Okanagan Valley region has been approached with greater apprehension and concern from area residents since the historic Okanagan Mountain Park fire in 2003. That fire burned 25,600 hectares, forced evacuations in Kelowna and Naramata impacting more than 33,000 people, destroyed 238 homes, and claimed 12 wooden trestles and damaged two other steel trestles in Myra Canyon. (File photo)
Ominous wildfire outlook if June rains don’t return to Okanagan

Dry spring is fueling potential for busy wildfire season in July and August

Joe Rich residents want logging operations in the area to stop for now until they get more clarity on slope stability and risks to the Mission Creek watershed. (Twila Amato/Black Press Media)
Joe Rich logging poses watershed risk: residents

Area residents want the logging to stop in the area for the time being

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to help disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

KCR Migrant Support Worker, Javier, had an exciting day escorting his son Ian with him during ‘Take your Child to Work Day’!
KCR: Volunteering is being part of a whole

KCR Community Resources shares stories of its volunteers in a weekly column

Lynda Saundry, born 1961, is charged with the murder of North Okanagan resident Barry Jones in July 2020. Saundry will appear in Vernon court May 17, 2021, to fix a date for a preliminary inquiry. (Facebook public photo)
North Okanagan murder suspect to be tried by judge and jury

Lynda Saundry is charged with the first-degree murder of Barry Jones in July 2020

Vernon Search and Rescue’s Legacy vessel is returning to Okanagan Lake for boating season, the society said Friday, May 14, 2021. (VSAR photo)
Vernon Search and Rescue vessel returns to Okanagan Lake

VSAR’s Legacy is back with a fresh coat of paint and some other upgrades

People shop in Chinatown in Vancouver on Friday, February 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver community leaders call for action following 717% rise in anti-Asian hate crimes

‘The alarming rise of anti-Asian hate in Canada and south of the border shows Asians have not been fully accepted in North America,’ says Carol Lee

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Most Read