Indigenous hereditary chiefs who are opposing the construction of a natural gas pipeline through their ancestral lands in northern B.C. are renewing their request for a meeting with Premier John Horgan.
The chiefs representing the five clans of the Wet’suwet’en released a statement Friday saying an attempted meeting with Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser last week was not good enough and creating division among the First Nation.
The chiefs and members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation who support them are blocking construction on a section of the $6.6-billion project that runs through traditional Indigenous territory near Houston, B.C.
The 670-kilometre pipeline is being constructed elsewhere between northeastern B.C. and a LNG export facility in Kitimat on the coast and has received consent from all 20 elected First Nation councils along the route.
The elected band councils of the Wet’suwet’en are among those who have consented, but the hereditary chiefs say only they have the authority to decide what happens on their ancestral lands.
A B.C. Supreme Court injunction against the opponents was granted on Dec. 31, and a deadline for the group to clear a blockade camp has come and gone with both sides at an impasse.
While Coastal GasLink has repeatedly requested meetings with the chiefs to reach a solution, the chiefs say they will only meet with Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Horgan has refused to agree to a meeting, however, saying the project has provincial and federal permits and the opponents are violating Canadian law. Instead, he sent Fraser, who travelled to Smithers Wednesday for a formal sit-down on behalf of the provincial government.
The Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation said in a statement that Fraser met with representatives of the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, and that the chiefs were “unable to meet.”
“Minister Fraser listened and engaged in dialogue, expressing the government’s commitment to finding a path forward together for a safe and peaceful resolution,” the ministry said.
“The meeting was productive and respectful and the minister committed that we will continue to make ourselves available for ongoing discussions.”
However, the chiefs accused Fraser of failing to follow established channels to meet with the five chiefs collectively, instead attempting to meet only with Chief Na’moks, who has frequently spoken on behalf of the chiefs.
The chiefs also said the Wet’suwet’en representative only reiterated their request for a nation-to-nation meeting with Horgan.
Horgan has not responded to the chiefs’ statement and renewed plea for a meeting. His office has not returned requests for comment.
The premier visited the site of the Kitimat LNG facility last week and toured northern B.C. over the weekend, but did not meet with the chiefs despite an invitation sent to Horgan on Jan. 15.
That same weekend, Interim BC Green Leader Adam Olsen and Nanaimo-Ladysmith Green MP Paul Manly met with the chiefs and other opponents to the project.
The premier spent a full day in 2019 with Wet’suwet’en leadership, two months after 14 people were arrested by RCMP as they enforced an earlier injunction against the pipeline opponents.
The premier’s office says it was a carefully planned meeting with months of preparation.
Former federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May said last week that Horgan should meet face-to-face with the hereditary chiefs, calling the project “an afront to Indigenous rights in the constitution.”
—With files from Richard Zussman