Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs arrive in Kahnawake for historic meeting

Traditional chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation arrive in Kahnawake, Que., as they continue their tour of Mohawk communities in eastern Canada. Dan Spector / Global News

Traditional chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation arrived in Kahnawake, Que. on Saturday to meet with traditional Iroquois leaders and the leadership of Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.

The hereditary chiefs of Wet’suwet’en have been touring Mohawk communities in eastern Canada, where rail blockades have been set up in solidarity with their cause.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink project that would carry natural gas to the B.C. coast through their territory, though others in the community support the pipeline.

Nationwide protests and blockades followed a move by RCMP to enforce a court injunction this month against the hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who had been obstructing an access road to a Coastal GasLink work site.

READ MORE: Protesters dismantle camp on Montreal’s south shore after Trudeau calls for end to blockades

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Traditional leaders and band council leaders do not usually sit together in a longhouse, but with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs visiting, they’ve changed the rules.

Traditional leaders from as far as Onondaga, Awkesasme and Six Nations have come to attend the meeting. Dozens of people surrounded a fire for the solemn ceremony.

Click to play video: 'Protesters dismantle railway blockade in Saint-Lambert, Que., urge federal  government to listen' Protesters dismantle railway blockade in Saint-Lambert, Que., urge federal government to listen
Protesters dismantle railway blockade in Saint-Lambert, Que., urge federal government to listen – Feb 21, 2020

The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs wore full regalia as they travelled to the longhouse to thank Kahnawake for their actions of solidarity with the protests.

The traditional chiefs took part in “Words at Edge of the Woods” —  a welcoming ceremony and a show of peace that took place at the Mohawk longhouse in Kahnawake.

Ghislain Picard, grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, was in attendance, as well as Joe Norton, the grand chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.

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“I think the Wet’suwet’en wanted to have this opportunity to be thankful to the Mohawk nation for their support,” said Picard. “In term of what happens next, it’s going to be between them and I think there are more discussions to be had.”

READ MORE: Via Rail and Exo announce re-opening of train lines starting Monday

Their Quebec visit comes one day after the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs visited supporters at Tyendinaga Mohawk territory to thank them.

One of the hereditary chiefs said Friday his people are willing to engage in nation-to-nation talks with the British Columbia and federal governments, but not until the RCMP in B.C. have left traditional Wet’suwet’en territory entirely and Coastal GasLink, the pipeline company, ceases work in the area.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau: Wet’suwet’en support blockades ‘must come down’' Trudeau: Wet’suwet’en support blockades ‘must come down’
Trudeau: Wet’suwet’en support blockades ‘must come down’ – Feb 21, 2020

The comments came after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau emerged from meetings with senior cabinet ministers on Friday, saying that barricades on rail lines and other major transportation routes must come down after two weeks of calls for patience and stalled attempts at negotiation.

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At least two blockades in Quebec have come down since Trudeau’s comments, neither of them on Indigenous territory.

Late Friday, protesters left a site in Saint-Lambert, south of Montreal, where they had been blockading railway tracks since Wednesday.

READ MORE: Planned meeting between feds, Wet’suwet’en now delayed due to Trudeau’s comments: chief

Riot police arrived in the afternoon after Trudeau spoke to enforce an injunction ordering protesters off Canadian National Railway tracks in Saint-Lambert, Que.

Another small blockade set up near L’Isle-Verte, Que., on Wednesday was also dismantled late Friday, provincial police said.

Wet’suwet’en’s hereditary chiefs expressed their gratitude towards the people of Kahnawake for their hospitality on Saturday.

“We’ve had really good treatment on the part of the Kahnawake people,” said Woos, one of the chiefs.

“We’re quite pleased that we’re here and we saw what Kahnawake people are all about,” said Woos.  “What we did today was renew our friendship, we shared our culture and our traditions, we exchanged information about who we are as the people of this land and we will continue that relationship.”

Despite being happy with the warm welcome, the hereditary chief expressed his discontentment with the situation in B.C.

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“With all the this happening, it just goes full circle. We’ve said right from the beginning,” said Woos.

“The rule of law that applies in the Delgamuukw 1997 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada and the duty to consult with the Wet’suwet’en’ hereditary chiefs is our expectation.”

The hereditary chief added that Marc Miller has not yet accepted the requests to meet again.

“It seems to me that since Mr. Trudeau has made his announcement, the communication has ceased,” said Woos.

— With files from Global’s Dan Spector and The Canadian Press

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