A Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief says a planned meeting with federal ministers may be delayed after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “unfortunate” comments on the rail blockades crippling Canada’s economy.
Chief Na’Moks told Global News Radio CKNW Friday that he and the other four hereditary chiefs opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project were speaking by phone with Crown–Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, and had agreed to a meeting set for Monday.
But around the time the chiefs and ministers were speaking, he says Trudeau gave his press conference, in which he called for the blockades to come down.
“It’s put things into a bit of confusion, and it may have even delayed the discussions that we had scheduled for next week,” Na’Moks said.
Trudeau said his government had done its best to end the rail blockades that have been held across the country for two weeks, but the responsibility now lies with Indigenous leaders and with police to seek a peaceful resolution.
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He stopped short of ordering RCMP to move in and clear those blockades, while admitting those in Ontario are under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Provincial Police.
Na’Moks said Trudeau’s comments will have caused any “predicament” that may come in the future, including delaying our outright scuttling talks between the chiefs and the ministers.
“We can’t jump into this after the statements of the prime minister threatening our cousins, the Mohawk, so it will definitely be delayed,” he said. “Our chiefs are going to have to stay longer with the Mohawk, because they were standing in solidarity with us.
“We need to look after each other. That meeting, it will happen. But not on Monday.”
Members of the Mohawk First Nation are behind a blockade on a rail crossing in Tyendinaga, Ont., that has stalled commuter and freight rail traffic. Several other blockades have followed across Canada in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en chiefs.
The blockades have led to layoffs of over 1,000 rail workers, with premiers warning of impending supply shortages.
Bennett and Miller were at Trudeau’s press conference, standing behind the prime minister as he spoke — despite Na’Moks claiming the ministers and the chiefs were in the middle of discussions when Trudeau began speaking.
Trudeau did, however, mention that Bennett and Miller had gotten off a call with the Wet’suwet’en chiefs “just moments ago.”
The Ministry of Crown–Indigenous Relations confirmed the call, but said a date had not been set for a meeting “at that time.”
“We are still working with the chiefs to determine a time and date that works for them for an in-person meeting,” the ministry said in a statement Saturday.
“We know there are many long standing issues the community would like addressed and that is why we remain fully committed to a joint in-person meeting with the hereditary chiefs and the government of B.C. at the soonest possible opportunity.”
In a statement Friday, Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald also called out Trudeau’s comments, accusing him of putting First Nations lives at risk.
“In Ontario, we are now planning on ways to keep all of our people safe, including innocent people who are not involved in civil actions,” the chief said. “We know that patience, peace and inclusion are part of the fabric that makes this country great and we must all work together for a peaceful resolve.”
Several leaders from the Tyendinaga Mohawk community and many of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs held a press conference in Ontario on Friday following Trudeau’s.
In it, they said they would not end the barricades because the RCMP in B.C. have not left the territory the Wet’suwet’en claim as their traditional lands.
The RCMP says planning is underway to transfer resources from a small, remote office on Wet’suwet’en land to their existing detachment in the nearby town of Houston.
Na’Moks has said the meeting initially set for Monday would discuss RCMP leaving traditional lands and ceasing patrols there, as well as the chiefs’ other request that Coastal GasLink halt work in the area.
Only if those conditions are met will talks continue, he says.
“We will not have discussions under duress,” he said. “We want this to be peaceful and in good faith.”
Coastal GasLink has not responded to whether they would consider pausing work in the area, but said Thursday it supports the RCMP pulling out of Wet’suwet’en territory as long as workers continue to have “safe and secure” access to work sites around the Morice River.
“Coastal GasLink continues to seek a negotiated resolution to the issues outlined by the Hereditary Chiefs and continues to provide long-lasting benefits to the Wet’suwet’en people,” a statement on the company’s website reads.
The blockades and other protests began after RCMP began enforcing an injunction on behalf of Coastal GasLink, clearing blockades set up by supporters of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Twenty-eight people were arrested over five days of enforcement.
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.
—With files from Amanda Connolly