Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are heading to Ontario on Wednesday to meet with members of the Mohawk community in Tyendinaga and Kahnawake who are protesting in solidarity with them.
The chiefs will meet with Mohawk protesters blocking railway tracks. They are expected to stay in Ontario over the weekend, visiting several protest locations.
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief Na’Moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale, confirmed that hereditary chiefs from four clans and a representative from a fifth clan will be travelling to Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont.
Na’Moks said there will be no discussions with any level of government until the RCMP and Coastal GasLink have left Wet’suwet’en territory.
Na’Moks said one of the issues the hereditary chiefs are fighting for is to have Wet’suwet’en hereditary councils enshrined in Canada’s constitution.
“Right now the federal government has every opportunity to ignore us,” he said.
The blockade by protesters in southern Ontario has shut down CN Rail in Eastern Canada and crippled Via Rail’s services nationwide. Via Rail announced Wednesday it is temporarily laying off close to 1,000 employees due to rail line closures.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said during an emergency debate in the House of Commons Tuesday night that there is a clear “path forward” to defuse the ongoing protests but offered few details.
“I know that the recent events in B.C. and in various places across the country are deeply concerning to all Canadians. It is a very difficult situation for everyone — for those people who are non-Indigenous but especially if they are Indigenous,” Miller said.
“But clearly, we see there is a path forward,” he said. “Canadians should know that we are seizing the situation at the very highest level of government to work toward a peaceful resolution.”
Hereditary Chief Woos accused the RCMP of bullying tactics and is calling on the Mounties to apologize to the Wet’suwet’en people and the hereditary chiefs.
“If they do that immediately, we’ll sit down with the federal politicians and perhaps the provincial politicians, too,” said Woos, who also goes by Frank Alec.
Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said the RCMP was aware of the chief’s request “to remove a mobile policing unit from an area in northern British Columbia where they enforced an injunction against pipeline opponents this month.”
The RCMP said discussions were underway with all stakeholders.
Solidarity protests with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who are opposed to a natural gas pipeline being laid through their territory have blocked roads, railways and even occupied some government buildings across Canada.
At issue is the $6-billion, 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline between Dawson Creek and Kitimat, B.C., which has been approved by the province, and 20 First Nations band councils have signed agreements in support of the project, including five of the six band councils in the Wet’suwet’en nation.
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have said councils are solely responsible for the territory within their individual reserves because their authority derives from the Indian Act.
Chief Woos said it’s been an “eye opener for everybody” to see the support and solidarity protests across Canada.
“There’s very few places on this entire planet that is as pristine as what we’re protecting and it’s all clean water,” he said. “The way the federal government is going through this and ignoring the hereditary system in the manner that they are is not the path forward.”
—With a file from the Canadian Press