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Wet’suwet’en protests have become ‘intertwined’ with other issues, Bennett says

Bennett hopeful government will resume negotiations with Indigenous leaders soon
Bennett hopeful government will resume negotiations with Indigenous leaders soon.

Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett says the Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests have become “intertwined” with a whole host of other issues those demonstrating may have.

“There are people that are speaking up about their issues as well, but… the solution will be found in the Wet’suwet’en community as they come together with their vision of self-determination and how they can form a government and write their own laws,” Bennett said in an interview with Global News Ottawa Bureau Chief Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday’s episode of The West Block.

“In my office, the Indigenous young people didn’t even want to sit at the same table as me, and it was the non-Indigenous allies that gave the message about the RCMP off the lands.”

READ MORE: Indigenous land conflicts to persist unless sovereignty addressed, Wilson-Raybould says

Her comments come two days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s press conference on Friday. He said some protesters in support of the blockades weren’t there because of a commitment to reconciliation.

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During the press conference, Trudeau called the situation “unacceptable and untenable,” appearing to take a harder line with those in support of the blockades than in previous weeks.

“Canadians have been patient, our government has been patient, but it has been two weeks and the barricades need to come down now,” he said. “History has taught us how governments can make matters worse if they fail to exhaust all other possible avenues.”

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Woos shot back shortly after, criticizing the prime minister.

Divisions within the Indigenous community on natural resource development
Divisions within the Indigenous community on natural resource development

“We heard Prime Minister Trudeau just a little while ago talking about the inconvenience that Canada has suffered. However, there is a difference between inconvenience and injustice — total difference. Don’t confuse one with the other. There’s a big difference,” Woos said.

The blockades have been in place for the past two weeks in support of the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s hereditary chiefs in British Columbia, halting Via and CN railroad lines and leading to over 1,500 layoffs. The hereditary chiefs are protesting a $6.6-billion Coastal Gaslink pipeline that is expected to be built through their unceded territory.

The project is supported by the nation’s elected band councils and 20 other Indigenous communities that reside near the proposed pipeline route, escalating tension over who has the authority to speak for the community.

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The protests began after the B.C. Supreme Court granted an injunction that would create an exclusionary zone against those, like the hereditary chiefs, who would interfere with the pipeline’s construction.

READ MORE: Railroad blockades ‘setting back reconciliation 20 years,’ warns B.C. MLA Ellis Ross

The RCMP said they had delayed enforcing the injunction for weeks to seek a peaceful resolution, but without one, they had no choice but to follow the court’s orders and began making arrests.

In January, a small, remote RCMP detachment was set up, prompting regular complaints from the hereditary chiefs and their supporters. The detachment was decommissioned and removed Saturday morning after Woos said hereditary chiefs would refuse to meet with the Canadian government until the RCMP was off their land.

Bennett said she hoped the RCMP’s decision would help the government resume land and title negotiations with the hereditary chiefs in the coming week.

“This is a conversation between the police and the hereditary chiefs,” she said. “But I am very optimistic.”