Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller wait to appear before the Indigenous and Northern Affairs committee in Ottawa, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller wait to appear before the Indigenous and Northern Affairs committee in Ottawa, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

VIDEO: Wet’suwet’en pipeline supporters feel shut out of talks, ministers told

Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en nation in northern B.C. oppose the route the pipeline would take

Federal cabinet ministers are facing pointed questions about why elected band chiefs and women of the Wet’suwet’en nation who support a disputed natural-gas pipeline in British Columbia were not in meetings aimed at reducing tensions.

At a parliamentary committee Tuesday, Conservative MPs pressed Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller over the meetings and how band-council chiefs who had signed deals for a project they believed would benefit their communities felt shut out of the talks.

Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en nation in northern B.C. oppose the route the pipeline would take through their traditional territory and their protests sparked solidarity blockades on roads and rail lines across the country for weeks.

Only the voices of those who are against the Coastal GasLink pipeline were part of the late-February meetings in B.C., said Conservative critic Jamie Schmale.

“Given the issue of title has effects on the Coastal GasLink project as well as the elected bodies within the nation, would it not have made sense to include those elected members in the meetings, rather than creating divisions within the community?”

Two weeks ago, Bennett and B.C.’s Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser met with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Three days of meetings resulted in a tentative deal on land and title rights among the federal and provincial governments and hereditary chiefs, which effectively ended the blockades last week.

Details of the draft accord have not been disclosed and the government has said it will remain confidential unless it is ratified by the Wet’suwet’en people in their traditional processes, which was expected to take up to two weeks.

Not all Wet’suwet’en members are against the pipeline, including 20 elected band councils along the route that have signed deals with Coastal GasLink.

Conservative MP Bob Zimmer says his caucus has been hearing from these pro-pipeline residents who say the federal government is not hearing the whole story.

“They want to have a community discussion about the issue and when you go into a community and you only pick a very select few to talk to — just the ones who are opposed to the project … there’s a frustration that you’re only wanting one result by only meeting with that particular group and even some of the ones you met with are chiefs under suspect circumstances,” Zimmer said.

Several women in the Wet’suwet’en nation who were once hereditary chiefs were stripped of their titles in recent years and replaced by men, says Theresa Tait-Day of the Wet’suwet’en Matrilineal Coalition. She was among those who lost a hereditary title.

She told the committee Tuesday the chiefs who took part in the meetings with Ottawa and B.C. don’t speak for the whole nation, calling them “bullies” who have sidelined women in the community.

“The government has legitimized the meeting with the five hereditary chiefs and left out the entire community,” she said.

READ MORE: Wet’suwet’en chiefs, ministers reach proposed agreement in B.C. pipeline dispute

The chiefs who met the ministers have indicated they would take the draft agreement to the community to get consensus on whether to move forward. But Tait-Day said they have not held large public meetings, only smaller clan meetings of 20 or fewer people. She said she wants the federal government to help establish a better system within their nation to ensure everyone’s voice is heard.

“We need a mechanism as a nation that is democratic and inclusive where we can all make decisions about a project. We don’t have that system in place within the Wet’suwet’en,” she said.

The wishes of the community, including those who support the pipeline, have been hijacked by outside groups using the hereditary chiefs who are against the pipeline to block oil and gas projects in Canada, Tait-Day added.

“The hereditary chiefs feel that they have the support of the protesters and that the protesters agree with them. But it’s not about the protesters agreeing with them, it’s about our people getting a resource and a benefit from our land, which we went to court for.”

Bennett told the committee she did not go to B.C. to discuss the pipeline, which is a provincially approved project. She was there to negotiate land and title rights generally, pointing to a 1997 Supreme Court decision that she says recognizes hereditary leaders as the overall voice for those discussions.

That’s why the tentative deal that was reached does not deal with the pipeline itself, but aims instead to define more clearly the land and title rights of the Wet’suwet’en people in British Columbia, following the “Delgamuukw” decision.

READ MORE: Wet’suwet’en pipeline supporters speak up

In that case, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the existence of Aboriginal title as an exclusive and ancestral right to the land, but the ruling fell short of recognizing the boundaries of the territory to which Wet’suwet’en title applies.

Bennett she is willing to meet with others from the community on the issue, but added the Wet’suwet’en have to decide amongst themselves how they want to move forward, rather than being directed by Ottawa.

“We have said from the beginning these decisions will be taken in the Wet’suwet’en nation, by the Wet’suwet’en people in their way, and that means in their houses, in their clans,” Bennett told reporters.

“It isn’t about the province of British Columbia or Canada, this is a nation decision as to whether what has been a proposed arrangement as to how we would move forward on the implementation of their rights and title — whether that is agreeable to their nation.”

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coastal GasLinkIndigenousPipeline

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Some of the hundreds of pounds of trash removed by divers last month from Abbotsford’s Walmsley Lake.(Henry Wang photo)
VIDEO: Divers remove 462 pounds of trash from Abbotsford lake

Walmsley Lake dive uncovers several tires, hundreds of drink containers and a tent

Comedian and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham is scheduled to bring his Seriously? tour to Abbotsford Centre on Nov. 4 after it was cancelled twice in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Jeff Dunham’s ‘Seriously?’ tour rescheduled for Abbotsford Centre

Show set for Nov. 4 after twice being cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic

Excerpts from a conversation between Bria Fisher and the fake truLOCAL job. Fisher had signed a job agreement and was prepared to start work for what she thought was truLOCAL before she learned it was a scam. (Contributed)
Harrison woman warning others after losing $3,000 in job scam

Bria Fisher was hired by what she thought was a Canadian company, only to be out thousands

Once a star player with the University of the Fraser Valley women’s basketball team, Kayli Sartori is moving into a new role coaching the next generation of Cascades. (UFV photo)
Chilliwack’s Kayli Sartori goes from court to coach with UFV basketball Cascades

Sartori is taking a new path as part of the U-Sports female basketball apprentice coaching program

Once again Fraser East is among the health service delivery areas with the highest rate of COVID-19 transmission in the province. (Datawrapper)
Fraser East sees third highest rate of COVID-19 cases in B.C.

The region is seeing a sustained increase in new COVID-19 cases

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Cottonwoods Care Home in Kelowna. (Google Maps)
New COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna care home includes fully vaccinated seniors: Henry

Two staff and 10 residents tested positive at Cottonwoods Care Centre

Trent Miner is returning to the Vancouver Giants, the team announced. He has been released by the Colorado Eagles of the AHL.(Rik Fedyck/Vancouver Giants)
Trent Miner returns to play goal for Vancouver Giants

Netminder was part of epic 11-game winning-streak by Langley-based team

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide a regular update on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, March 2, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday

Focus on Prince Rupert, Lower Mainland large workplaces

Rising accident rates and payout costs have contributed to billion-dollar deficits at ICBC. (Comox Valley Record)
B.C. appealing decision keeping ICBC injury cases in court

David Eby vows to ‘clip wings’ of personal injury lawyers

(Black Press Media files)
Hosts charged, attendees facing COVID fines after Vancouver police bust party at condo

Police had previously received 10 complains about that condo

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. A joint federal and B.C. government housing program announced today aims to help people living in up to 25,000 vulnerable households pay their rent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Federal, B.C. governments announce $517-million rent aid program to help vulnerable

Benefits for those not eligible for B.C.’s Rental Assistance Program or Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters

Most Read