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Okanagan Indian Band sends letter to PM in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs

Click to play video 'Ministers ‘remain optimistic’ as talks with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs enter third day' Ministers ‘remain optimistic’ as talks with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs enter third day
Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser said they “remain optimistic” Saturday as talks with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs enter their third day – Feb 29, 2020

The Okanagan Indian Band’s chief and council have sent a letter to the prime minister expressing support for the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in northern B.C. who are opposed to a natural gas pipeline in their traditional territory.

Chief Byron Louis penned the letter to Justin Trudeau, writing the Wet’suwet’en have sovereignty over their land, before noting the environment impacts of the Coastal GasLink project.

READ MORE: Ministers optimistic as talks with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs enter 3rd day

“We understand GasLink will not only carry gas from Northern British Columbia obtained by fracking — a method that causes great stress on the land and those of their relations who
inhabit the land, but also traverses the sacred headwaters of the Talbits Kwah (Gosnell Creek) and Wedzin Kwah (Morice River) — both spawning grounds for salmon,” the letter says.

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The OKIB says the pipeline dispute highlights issues surrounding reconciliation and the rights of Indigenous peoples.

“Canada’s history is replete with instances of First Nations people forcibly removed from their land. Whether by government policy or police action, the result is the same — economies and cultures are destroyed, ecosystems ravaged and rights unjustifiably extinguished in the name of ‘Public Interest’,” the letter read.

READ MORE: Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs meet for 2nd day with feds over pipeline dispute

The band also calls into question the legitimacy of an injunction obtained to remove blockades in northern B.C.

“Consultation and reconciliation demand respect for rules and systems of government that were in effect in this land long before people with Western European ideas of governance immigrated here,” the letter said.

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Click to play video 'Talks continue in northern B.C. between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and senior government ministers' Talks continue in northern B.C. between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and senior government ministers
Talks continue in northern B.C. between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and senior government ministers – Feb 28, 2020

“We hope that you and your government will take these points into consideration as you make important decisions about the future of Indigenous-settler relations in the months and years to come.”

Meanwhile, senior government ministers say they remain optimistic that talks with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs will break an impasse over the pipeline dispute, as they enter a third day.

READ MORE: 63% of Canadians support police intervention to end rail blockades: Ipsos poll

Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and British Columbia Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser said the discussions are complex but are progressing respectfully.

In a news conference Saturday, Bennett said the fact that the conversations are continuing is “a very good sign.”

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The talks began Thursday afternoon in northern B.C. and continued into late into Friday night, and another update is expected later Saturday.

Click to play video 'Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs meet with gov’t ministers for second day' Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs meet with gov’t ministers for second day
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs meet with gov’t ministers for second day – Feb 28, 2020

Solidarity protests and blockades have broken out across the country since the RCMP moved into Wet’suwet’en territory on Feb. 6 to enforce an injunction to stop a blockade erected by those opposed to the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline.

The Wet’suwet’en are governed by both a traditional hereditary chief system and elected band councils. A majority of its councils have approved the pipeline, but some of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose it running through their traditional territory.

-With files from the Canadian Press