Wet’suwet’en sub-chief who supports Coastal GasLink says supporters, elected chiefs aren’t being heard

A Wet’suwet’en hereditary sub-chief who supports the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline was in Ottawa on Tuesday where she said the voices of women and elected band councils aren’t being given due weight by the government and other Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

“As female Wet’suwet’en members and community leaders, we want to be heard and involved in the decision-making. That is our way,” Theresa Tait-Day (Wi’hali’yte) told MPs during a meeting of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

“But our voices are not being heard. Many of the male hereditary chiefs are acting out internalized historical oppression. We face patriarchal domination,” said Tate, who is also the president of the Wet’suwet’en Matrilineal Coalition.

“We have been working particularly with LNG and Coastal GasLink. Our people wanted a benefit and they wanted to be able to make a decision on a positive note. However, we’ve experienced lateral violence and coercion since then by the five chiefs who claim to represent the nation.”

It is eight of nine house chiefs hailing from all five clans – not five chiefs – that have opposed the project.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership consists of 13 house chiefs that represent the five clans. Nine house chiefs are currently sitting and four house chief names – such as Kweese and Goolaht – are vacant.

Only one house chief, Samooh (Herb Naziel), has publicly supported the pipeline.

The other eight oppose it.

Smogelgem, Na’Moks, Woos, Hagwilnegh, Madeek, Kloumkhun, Knedebeas, and Gisday’wa all signed the “eviction notice” they gave CGL on Jan. 5.

All nine sitting house chiefs are men. There is also controversy over whether the names Smogelgem and Woos – formerly held by women – were assumed according to traditional feast laws.

Each house chief has one or more sub-chiefs beneath them. Some sub-chiefs support the project, but it’s not clear how many names are vacant and how many oppose the pipeline.

The Wet’suwet’en Matrilineal Coalition received seed money from CGL and the province. Tait-Day said accepting that money does not taint her support for the project or delegitimize her group’s stated goal of bridging the gap between hereditary and elected chiefs.

“The hereditary chiefs on WMC are not band chiefs. We are legitimate hereditary chiefs. We are not illegitimate. We are the ones that have to be speaking and the chiefs have to listen to the women and they have not done so,” she told reporters.

Resource Works Society, a B.C. based non-profit, hired a public relations firm called Coast Communications which issued a press release on Tait-Day’s behalf.

Coast Communication’s other clients include Pacific Northern Gas, Beaumont Timber, and First Nations LNG Alliance. It provided APTN News a copy of Tait-Day’s testimony.

According to its website, Resource Works aims to show “how responsible development of British Columbia’s resources creates jobs and incomes throughout the province, both directly and indirectly, while maintaining a clean and healthy environment.”

She told reporters why she supports the pipeline.

“I support the pipeline because it’s going through our land and they want to rent our land. That’s what we went to court for under Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa […] We want that for our nation.”

While Tait-Day is working with CGL, her testimony criticized environmental activists and protesters who rallied behind the hereditary chiefs.

“These chiefs’ voices have been amplified by the skills and resources of outside environmental activists, who say that they support the Wet’suwet’en but whose primary interest is stopping the pipeline,” she said.

“The protest organizers are conveniently hiding beneath our blanket as Indigenous people, while forcing their policy goals at our expense. This compromises our Nation’s social well-being and our people’s economic futures.”

Although clan meetings happened last week and continue this week, Tait-Day said these have been small and she did not attend.

She has not seen the “proposed arrangement” on rights and title which was signed by the hereditary chiefs and representatives of federal and provincial governments.

Prior to Tait-Day’s testimony, Conservative MP Jamie Schmale argued with Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, over her government’s engagement with elected chiefs and the Wet’suwet’en Matrilineal Coalition.

“If you’re only hearing from one side against a project you’re negotiating title which has impacts – again, you’re leaving out the other side, but I won’t dwell on that,” Schmale said.

“But Jamie I don’t think you heard me,” Bennett replied. “I said that the matriarchs were there, I heard from each of them on Thursday. That was the beginning. They were right there at the beginning.”

Indigenous Services minister Marc Miller weighed in shortly after. Liberal MP Jaime Battiste asked him what the government learned about traditional Indigenous governance.

(Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, speaks with reporters after the meeting. Photo: APTN)

“As Carolyn summarized, some progress has been made out west in starting to create the basis for engagement with hereditary leadership. As a country, the Indian Act imposed band council system is something that is viewed in many Indigenous communities as colonialist and paternalistic,” he said.

NDP Leah Gazan also challenged the ministers on their own adherence to the rule of law. The government repeatedly stressed the rule of law during the weeks that the blockades were up.

“You have a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that has ruled against your government for discriminating against First Nations children. We are now at nine non-compliance orders. If the rule of law is about respecting the law, then are you not breaking the law here? Yes or no?”

Miller began to answer her question. “This is a highly emotional issue because we’re speaking about First Nations children,” he said.

Gazan interrupted.

“You’re not answering my question, because it seems your government supports the rule of law when it supports your economic interest,” she said.

“Many times we end up in these situations because in Canada because it does not respect their own laws, their court decisions, or human rights of Indigenous peoples or Indigenous laws.”

NDP MP Niki Ashton also raised the question of COVID-19 and its potential to disproportionately impact Indigenous communities.

“Indigenous communities are more vulnerable for a number of reasons: historic socioeconomic gaps, overcrowding, lack of access to clean and safe drinking water,” Miller said.

Ashton criticized the government for naming Miller an “alternate” member to the COVID-19 committee.

“I can confirm with the member that I am on the committee and participating fully,” Miller replied.

-With files from Todd Lamirande

Online Reporter - Ottawa

Brett is a member of the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in Ontario. He grew up in Ottawa where he obtained an English degree from Carleton University. Brett is a creative writer, poet, and journalist. He joined the Ottawa bureau for APTN News in December 2019 as a digital reporter.


2 thoughts on “Wet’suwet’en sub-chief who supports Coastal GasLink says supporters, elected chiefs aren’t being heard

  1. why is my comment not posted? THIS consultion process has given me- a wetsuweten woman RN of 26 yrs in good standing in 2provinces/4states, daughter of a late ww2 vet & wetsuweten hereditary chief – a witness to delguumeaux – A VOICE. Something is seriously flawed when my voice didnt count before- I was appraoched by Theresa in 2015 at a wetsuweten meeting in Vancouver. As soon as it became known Im against the pipeline- I was no longer pursued. Our people need to QUIT going to the media&start talking to one another about issues for the sake of our future- our children are paying attention. Im the neice of the late smogelthghem- he loved the territory that the new smogelthgem is protecting. The new woss is respected. As for the people sitting around waiting for a job to come to them- if they are good enough to work for cgl they are good enough to work anywhere. We also need
    to get out of that government handout idealism- government program money has ALWAYs been available- our people still suffer social issues whereas the land defenders are successfully showing the youth self determination MINUS govt dependence & ITS WORKING. The land is who we are. If its a job needed- my daughter through her own money trained to become a CNA noted as a caregiver of the month in Montreals elite homecare agency. My son, without funding, put himself through training & is now a red seal ironworker who apprenticed under none other than the mighty mohawks inBrooklyn & NYC. Real leaders will encourage the future generations to be self sustainent instead of depending on govt – industry programs. Who are the 80% for the pipeline? Its the same people speaking up–with a few variations. The majority of wetsuweten to my knowlege want to protect the land- maybe she is thinking of that tiny on reserve box instead of recognizing the vast majority of us who DONT
    live on a rez & arent affiliated with a band but carry the bloodline of the hereditary chiefs- delguumeaux witnesses. This matrilineal group needs
    to get over themselves- CGL has been UGLY since the start- a real shameful entity which brought off some to fit their sole
    mandate that benefits the few and USA and China. The hereditary chiefs have the majority of the people yearning for land protection unfortunately our voices havent counted as
    we arent YES people nor are we recognized by the govt despite our inherent rights!!

  2. our people need to quit going to
    the media and encouraged to resolve these issues amongst ourselves. 80% for the pipeline- Im skyzeh wetsuweten woman & an RN of 26 yrs- as
    a daughter of 2 hereditary chiefs something is VERY wrong when the previous consultation didnt include me. The land defenders forced this to be revisited- this time my voice counted as many of our pro land defender wetsuweten females who stand behind our hereditary chiefs Just because we disagree with monetary greed we dont need to be shut out! Govt handouts did NOTHING for our people all these years. Self determination did. We need leaders like the land defenders teaching our youth self sustainability & our hereditary system with healing coming from the homes of our ancestors- like those greedy band chiefs did any of those matriarchs spend time in the territories to appreciate it? I know for sure some havent set foot on the home of our ancestors. Most importantly- if some of our people are good enough to get out and work- stop waiting for a job to
    come to you!! Me and my children dont have the resources to sit around waiting for jobs. Im an RN in good standing in 2 provinces/4states. My daughter is a nursing aide who was caregiver of the month in Montreal’s elite homecare agency. My son is a redseal ironworker who trained under none other than the mohawks in NY … we didnt sit around feeling sorry for ourselves
    waiting for jobs. Our great land defender leaders have countless matriarches following them as we see them as key to getting our people out of that dependence mode. The new smogelthghem is protecting the territory- the new Wass is RESPECTABLE. Get over yourselves move on– learn from us the people – we aim for self determination minus external influence!!

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