‘This is about our dignity’: Green MLA, MP meet with Indigenous pipeline opponents in northern B.C.

Click to play video: 'Politicians visit camps opposed to pipeline project in northern B.C.'
Politicians visit camps opposed to pipeline project in northern B.C.
A group of politicians met with the Indigenous hereditary chiefs and other opponents of a natural gas pipeline -- but it wasn't led by Premier John Horgan as requested. Instead it was two prominent Green party members: one provincial, and one federal. Sarah MacDonald reports from Smithers. – Jan 19, 2020

Members of the provincial and federal Green parties travelled to northern B.C. this weekend to meet with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and other opponents of a natural gas pipeline set to run through their ancestral lands.

BC Greens Interim Leader Adam Olsen landed in nearby Smithers on Saturday after being invited by the Chiefs earlier in the week. On Sunday, he was joined by Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Paul Manly, who was also invited.

Together, they heard the group’s concerns about the project, the B.C. Supreme Court injunction seeking to remove their camp, and the RCMP’s presence in the community as they man an “access control checkpoint” nearby.

“We have a very complex legal system in this country, one which recognizes Indigenous law and recognizes this specific Indigenous law,” said Olsen, a member of the Tsartlip First Nation in Brentwood Bay.

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“This is about our dignity. This is about our country and our province doing things in a dignified way.”

Coastal GasLink is building the 670-kilometre pipeline from British Columbia’s northeast to Kitimat on the coast.

Click to play video: 'Pipeline protestors dig in'
Pipeline protestors dig in

The company has signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nation councils along its path. But the hereditary clan chiefs who are leaders under the traditional form of governance say the $6.6-billion project has no authority without their consent, citing Wet’suwet’en law.

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The chiefs have refused to meet with the company until they can speak face-to-face with B.C. Premier John Horgan.

Horgan has not indicated he plans to meet with the chiefs, despite touring the LNG site in Kitimat on Friday and spending the weekend touring other northern communities.

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The premier has promised the federally and provincially-permitted project will be built while referring to the injunction, which was granted on Dec. 31.

The concern now has shifted to how that injunction will be enforced. RCMP say they aren’t planning any action until meetings are held between commanders and the chiefs.

Click to play video: 'Anti-pipeline protesters dig in in northern B.C.'
Anti-pipeline protesters dig in in northern B.C.

A deadline came and went more than a week ago after the injunction was posted at the site.

The police force is also under heavy scrutiny based on their actions just over a year ago, when 14 people were arrested while RCMP enforced a similar injunction against the pipeline opponents, in an operation often described as a “raid.”

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Manly said the RCMP are caught in the middle of a situation created by politics.

“I empathize with the RCMP to be put in this position,” he said. “This is a failure of politics, that we have this conflict here, in this community and in this region.”

Olsen and Manly say they plan to take the chiefs’ concerns to their respective governments.

The hereditary chiefs and their supporters, meanwhile, are remaining firm as they await police action.

“We’re not being stubborn, we’re just being right,” said Chief Na’Moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale and is the highest-ranking hereditary chief of Tsayu, one of the five clans that make up the nation.

“We have our own process, our own laws. We’re not breaking any laws.”

Cody Merriman with the ‘Namgis First Nation says despite other Wet’suwet’en members and elected councillors actively supporting the project, his group will not bend under pressure.

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“It’s undying, and it’s unwavering,” he said. “The community is standing behind the Indigenous chiefs, 100 per cent.”

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has filed a legal complaint against the RCMP checkpoint, saying it has “no legal basis” to be there.

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