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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
In a news conference Saturday, Bennett said the fact that the conversations are continuing is “a very good sign.”
The talks began Thursday afternoon in northern B.C. and continued into late into Friday night, and another update is expected later Saturday.
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