Chief Woos, one of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders, says he is optimistic ahead of Tuesday evening talks with the RCMP on the force’s withdrawal from land claimed by his community as their traditional territory as part of ongoing talks to end nationwide blockades.
“I feel optimistic. Physically tired but optimistic,” said Woos, who is also known as Frank Alec, in a phone call with Global News.
“There’s good faith and goodwill with the parties, particularly the RCMP.”
For three weeks, protesters have intermittently blockaded railways, roads, buildings and border crossings as part of what they have described as a show of solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, some of whom oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline set to be built through their territory.
While other hereditary chiefs and all elected band councillors — including from the 20 other First Nations along the proposed route — support the project, Woos and others remain opposed and have thanked protesters for showing their support.
But as the blockades stretch into their third week, political pressure has grown for the Liberal government to act to end the blockades which businesses have warned are choking supply chains across the country.
Premiers including Alberta’s Jason Kenney and Quebec’s Francois Legault have called for more aggressive action to remove the blockades. Last week, four days after urging Canadians to exercise patience with the protesters, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said enough was enough.
“Every attempt at dialogue has been made but discussions have not been productive. We cannot have dialogue when only one party is coming to the table,” he said on Friday.
“The fact remains: the barricades must now come down. The injunctions must be obeyed and the law must be upheld.”
There has been limited progress, though, on removing the blockades. While Ontario Provincial Police arrested multiple protesters at the rail blockade in Tyendinaga, other blockades have since sprung up, including one briefly on the GO Train tracks near Hamilton, Ont., on Tuesday.
Woos said the support has been “well-received” by the hereditary chiefs opposed to the Coastal GasLink project.
He also said he could not speculate on whether it might be days or weeks before he would consider calling for the blockades to end.
“That’s under discussion right now. I can’t get specific on that one,” he said.
“It’s hard to tell. Because of the complexities we’re being careful not to move too fast.”
Woos said the plan right now is for RCMP to phone into a meeting with hereditary chiefs later on Tuesday, who will be meeting in Smithers, B.C.
After that meeting, Woos says he will signal through a press release and a call to protesters in Tyendinaga whether the hereditary chiefs are satisfied with the measures taken by RCMP to get out of the territory.
He also added the meeting could pave the way for a potential meeting with Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and Indigenous-Crown Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, but that there is no plan yet for that to happen.
Miller spoke with reporters on Tuesday in Ottawa and said the progress he has seen so far is encouraging.
“Over the last few days there has been some back-and-forth that has been modestly positive,” he said, but would not answer clearly whether he viewed the calls for more aggressive action by premiers like Legault as potentially damaging to that progress.
“We’re all aiming towards a peaceful resolution,” he said.
“It’s clear in some circumstances there may be some frustration. There’s frustration across Canada but I take a step back and I think, let’s look at resolving this quickly.”