A Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief says he wants to meet with federal ministers as soon as possible to discuss RCMP leaving the First Nation’s traditional territory, which the chief says hasn’t happened yet.
Chief Na’moks, one of the five hereditary chiefs opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project, told Global News Thursday he will bring his plan to the other chiefs Friday morning and have a decision “before noon” on whether to open discussions with Minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett.
Na’moks and the other chiefs had previously said meeting with Bennett and her B.C. counterpart Scott Fraser was contingent on the RCMP dismantling a remote detachment on Wet’suwet’en territory, and that Coastal GasLink workers must also pull out of the area.
Na’moks says he has not yet told Bennett’s office about his desire for a meeting, but that he plans to do so the next time they contact him, which he says is “every hour.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday called for an end to blockades during a press conference.
The ministers have requested to meet with the chiefs as weeks of rail blockades and protest marches have sent ripple effects through Canada’s economy, with commuter and freight train traffic stalled and ports seeing major backlogs.
B.C. RCMP Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan sent a letter to the hereditary chiefs Wednesday telling them the need for a small detachment near Houston, B.C., would be “decreased” if the chiefs and their supporters continue to grant access to Coastal GasLink workers.
On Thursday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair confirmed the contents of that letter, but also said RCMP had agreed to leave and pull back to the nearby town of Houston, treating it as a done deal.
But Na’moks says he travelled to the Community Industry Safety Office (CISO) Thursday and found that not only was it fully staffed, the watch commander had not heard of any directive to leave the detachment or pull out of the area.
“I can’t say I’m surprised, but I sure don’t trust them. I trust them less than I did before.”
Na’moks accused Blair of making an untrue statement and pushed back against the suggestion that he simply misspoke.
“What they put out in public was untrue. I know that. I was there.”
In response to Blair’s comments, the RCMP repeated that Strachan had offered to both meet with the hereditary chiefs to discuss a long-term solution and that the CISO could be removed if the forest road is kept clear.
The RCMP said it would further clarify the immediate future of the detachment and operations in the area on Friday morning.
Na’moks says he won’t meet with Strachan or anyone else from the RCMP, or even send them a letter confirming they’ll keep the road clear.
He says the relationship between the chiefs and the police force was permanently broken after RCMP enforced an injunction earlier this month on behalf of Coastal GasLink, arresting 28 people.
The arrests were made at camps blocking workers from accessing a key worksite for the natural gas pipeline, which is set to feed a planned LNG export facility in Kitimat on the northern B.C. coast.
The small, remote detachment was set up last January after RCMP enforced an earlier injunction against the camps blocking access to Coastal GasLink workers in the same area. Fourteen people were arrested in that operation.
The CISO has been in place ever since, prompting regular complaints from the hereditary chiefs and their supporters as they set up new blockades against the pipeline’s construction throughout last year.
Previously, the RCMP has said that while its major operations in the region have concluded, the mobile unit would remain in place and it would continue “patrols of the corridor to ensure everyone’s safety.”
Although 20 elected First Nations councils along the 670-kilometre path of the Coastal GasLink pipeline have signed agreements with the company — including those of the Wet’suwet’en — Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say the project has no authority without their consent.