Coastal GasLink and the RCMP have agreed to stop work and pull patrols while hereditary chiefs meet with provincial and federal politicians about a controversial pipeline project.
The chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation said in a release it’s the pre-conditions they needed to start talks in Smithers, B.C., Thursday afternoon.
“The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs thank our supporters for their tireless dedication and now the Chiefs need time to have discussions with B.C. and Canada in an atmosphere of wiggus,” which means respect in the Witsuwit’en language.
READ THE RCMP RELEASE HERE: Mutual agreement reached with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and the RCMP
“The Hereditary Chiefs have committed to keep the road free of obstructions for the passage of Wet’suwet’en people and their guests without interference,” the release said.
But Kenneth Deer, secretary of the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake, said the pre-conditions aren’t enough to call off the blockades being held in solidarity in his territory south of Montreal.
“Kahnawake Mohawks intend to maintain the status quo of their train blockade pending an outcome of these meetings,” Deer said in a text message.
An in-house team of wildlife officials called the Wet’suwet’en Rangers will take over patrols along the Morice Forest Service Road, which connects to two clan’s camps and the company’s construction area, the chiefs said.
“We believe these conditions provide the space we need to be able to sit down at the table in good faith and a positive path forward,” they added. “We hope the RCMP and CGL see the wisdom in that and help create the conditions for positive and respectful discussions.
“We are so close and have called on the Provincial and Federal governments to support this de-escalation of activities so that this issue can be resolved.”
(RCMP on site in January 2019. APTN file)
RCMP have been onsite for weeks as part of enforcing a B.C. Supreme Court injunction granting CGL workers access to unceded, non-treaty territory. The hereditary chiefs say they never agreed to the project that will cut through their land despite approval from five elected bands in the nation.
“Coastal GasLink has agreed to a two-day pause of construction activities in the Morice River area, to facilitate dialogue between the Hereditary Chiefs and government representatives,” the company confirmed in a statement on its website.
“The pause is expected to begin on commencement of talks. We fully support the efforts of all parties and are committed to finding a peaceful resolution to the current issues.”
READ THE COMPANY’S RELEASE HERE: Coastal GasLink agrees to a two-day pause of construction activity in the Morice River area
The company says more than 1,200 women and men are employed on the $6-billion project at this time – 30 per cent of whom are Indigenous.
The RCMP say they closed their Community Industry Safety Office (CISO) Feb. 21 in “a show of good faith” and relocated their base of operations to nearby Houston, B.C.
In exchange, the RCMP said the chiefs committed to keeping the road open during their discussions with the federal and provincial governments.
(Gary Michelle is one of the Wet’suwet’en Rangers, who will patrol in the RCMP’s absence. Facebook)
“Therefore, the RCMP has confirmed that patrols along the Morice West Forest Service Road will cease during the period of discussions with the government representatives,” the police said in a release.
“The RCMP has agreed not to patrol the road unless there is an emergency call for service, such as a motor vehicle accident with injuries. To ensure the Hereditary Chief’s commitment is being respected, members of the Wet’suwet’en Rangers will patrol the road, while talks are being held.”
However, Jen Wickham, a spokesperson for the Gidimt’en access point and Unist’ot’en camp south of Houston, said her people on the ground were still seeing RCMP patrols Thursday, and posted on Facebook and Twitter about it.
“The news reports are based upon what the rcmp says, and not what they actually do. The lies continue. We ask that people do not allow their deceptive tactics to go unnoticed,” the tweet said.
As well, Wickham said the RCMP CISO office still contained furniture and a running generator.
“What is happening on the ground is different from what is being told,” she said by phone, noting the clans want the CISO office emptied and the generator turned off.
These talks are seen as crucial to ending demonstrations and blockades that have snarled freight and passenger traffic across the country in support of the clans and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs
The chiefs said in their release they invited Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan to the table, who both declined to attend at this time. The meeting went ahead Thursday afternoon with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and B.C. Indigenous Affairs Minister Scott Fraser on Wet’suwet’en territory.
Two days of talks are scheduled, Chief Na’Moks (John Ridsdale) said.
With files from Tom Fennario
Note: This story was updated with comment from Jen Wickham. And links.