The B.C. RCMP have “temporarily” closed a remote detachment that has stood on Wet’suwet’en territory in northern B.C. for over a year, meeting one of three conditions the hereditary chiefs say need to be met before further engagement can go ahead.
A spokesperson said police finished relocating the base of its operations from the Community Industry Safety Office (CISO) to its detachment in nearby Houston, B.C., mid-day Friday.
The temporary buildings on the site at the 29-kilometre mark on the Morice West Forest Service Road, similar to trailers used at construction sites, are locked and behind a closed and locked gate, RCMP said.
“Patrols are continuing in the area and discussions are underway with regards to the future of our presence in that territory moving forward,” RCMP said in an email Saturday.
RCMP confirmed those patrols are based out of Houston, B.C., but have no fixed time or schedule and are conducted during regular shifts to “monitor the roadway.”
Chief Na’Moks, one of the five hereditary clan chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation who are opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project, says he was informed during a teleconference Friday with the other chiefs and B.C. RCMP Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan that the CISO was being shuttered.
“They did not say they would remove it, they just said it would be shuttered,” he said by phone from Smithers, B.C.
“There was really never any reason for it.”
Strachan had informed the chiefs and RCMP members on Wednesday that planning was underway to close the CISO, so long as the chiefs continued to not obstruct the forest service road that leads to a key Coastal GasLink worksite.
Na’Moks says discussions are set to continue next week to determine next steps, including ending patrols through Wet’suwet’en lands.
“We’d be happy if they just went down to once a day,” he said. “Communities need RCMP, but way out there on one road, multiple times a day? There’s no need for that.”
The hereditary chiefs say they will not engage in deeper discussions with police and federal government “under duress,” and have called for RCMP patrols to end on the road and for Coastal GasLink to halt work in the area.
Those conditions must also be met before members of the Mohawk First Nation remove a rail blockade in southern Ontario set up in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en chiefs two weeks ago.
Chiefs from both nations repeated those demands from the blockade Saturday.
Na’Moks says talks are also tentatively set for next week with Minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett and Minister of Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, who last talked to the chiefs Friday.
But Na’Moks repeated his claim that those discussions have been delayed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s calls that day for the blockades to come down, as freight traffic remains at a standstill and ports are seeing major backlogs.
“The way for these blockades to come down is for these three conditions to be met,” he said.
“They’re really not that difficult. Coastal GasLink can’t do much work anyways because of the weather we have here, and the RCMP don’t need to be here.”
Now that one of the conditions appears to have been met, Na’Moks says progress is being made, and is keeping positive about the state of future talks.
But he adds more needs to be done to end the weeks of barricades and protests he says he didn’t want in the first place.
“I really want a positive outcome to come from this,” he said. “The level this has gotten to now, that is not the fault of the Wet’suwet’en. This simply could have been dealt with so much quicker, but people get locked into their position and they stay there.
“We didn’t want to shut down railways and all that. We can’t tell other nations what to do, and this was the action they took. I’m just so glad it’s peaceful.”
Coastal GasLink has not responded to questions of whether work could be halted to allow for further discussions, but has said it supports the closing of the CISO.
Twenty elected First Nations band councils along the 670-kilometre pipeline route have signed agreements with Coastal GasLink and stand to benefit from the $6.6-billion project, which will transport natural gas to a LNG export facility in Kitimat, B.C.
But the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say those councils only have authority over their individual reserves under the Indian Act, while the chiefs have rights and title over traditional territory.