First Nations groups and their supporters occupying a bridge near Houston, B.C. say they will comply with a B.C. Supreme Court injunction requiring them to grant access to natural gas pipeline construction crews, but vowed “this is not over.”
Following negotiations with the RCMP on Wednesday, the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs said they would open the checkpoint gate at the Unist’ot’en Camp.
“While the chiefs have a responsibility to protect the land, they also have a duty to protect our land defenders. Our people faced an incredible risk of injury or death and that is not a risk we are willing to take for an interim injunction,” said the group on its website
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The chiefs agreed to meet with RCMP and Coastal GasLink on Thursday morning to discuss next steps.
The group also said it had succeeded in shifting the conversation.
“Our efforts over the past month made the RCMP, Coastal GasLink, and the colonial governments recognize that this is not an issue of individual ‘protestors’ but rather an issue of our house chiefs’ jurisdiction to make decisions on our own lands,” it said.
“We have fought for many years to make this point by politely telling it like it is.”
The campers are also pledging to take the issue to the Supreme Court of Canada, to clearly define rights and title to the area that were initially sketched out in the key 1997 Delgamuuk’w case, which affirmed that the Wet’suwet’en had never ceded their traditional lands.
“We paved the way with the Delgamuuk’w court case and the time has come for Delgamuuk’w II,” they said.
On Monday, RCMP officers descended on another checkpoint, where Wet’suwet’en members of the Gidumt’en clan were blocking access to crews looking to build TC Energy’s (formerly Trans Canada Corp.) Coastal GasLink pipeline. The pipeline would deliver natural gas from Dawson Creek to a future LNG plant in Kitimat.
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Police arrested 14 people, sparking demonstrations of solidarity in cities across B.C. and Canada.
The RCMP was enforcing an interim injunction issued in December and expanded in January to cover both checkpoints.
Mounties established a roadblock around the area, denying access to media and members of the public, but allowed the gas company’s contractors to pass through and clear the road.
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The pipeline project has provincial and federal approval, and TC Energy has signed deals with all 20 elected First Nations band councils along the route.
However, some members of the Wet’suwet’en say elected band councils only represent on-reserve matters, and that issues surrounding traditional, unceded territory are represented by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
The Wet’suwet’en demonstrators cite the Delgamuuk’w ruling, which found they had not given up rights and title to 22,000 square kilometres of territory, and a group of hereditary chiefs say they were not adequately consulted and have not given consent to the project in those lands.
On Wednesday, B.C. Premier John Horgan said he hoped for a peaceful solution to the dispute, but that Coastal GasLink had followed the rules to get to this point.
“It is our view that the process has concluded, but that is not the end of discussion and dialogue,” Horgan said.
“This project represents great opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples alike, but it also recognizes and highlights the challenges of reconciliation. There is no quick fix to resolving issues that date back to 1876.”
— With files from the Canadian Press