Elected chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en are calling for a retraction of a joint statement by the hereditary chiefs, B.C. officials and the federal government regarding the signing of a memorandum on rights and title.
The joint statement, released this week, noted that the groups reached an agreement on Feb. 29 in regards to the contents of a memorandom of understanding (MOU), which remain confidential. The MOU was created through a days-long discussion in Smithers earlier this year.
But in their own joint statement release on Friday (May 1), the elected chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nations say they don’t support the agreement.
“This MOU consultation process has lacked any semblance of credibility,” the statement reads.
“The federal government, the provincial government and the hereditary chiefs have completely ignored many clan members and elected chiefs. These discussions have not included openness and respect for all parties.”
Details of the memorandum have not been released, but the hereditary chiefs, federal and provincial governments agree it commits them to implement the rights and title of the First Nation.
The statement notes the signing of the MOU, tentatively scheduled for May 14, would come just after the 33rd anniversary of the beginning of the original Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa case in B.C. Supreme Court, which started on May 11, 1987.
In that case, the chief justice at the time ruled against the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan. A later Supreme Court of Canada decision in 1997 affirmed rights and title, but did not establish details such as the boundaries of the land claims, causing a series of conflicts and ambiguities in recent years – specifically in regards to pipeline projects in the area.
The elected chiefs called the announcement of the MOU signing “premature” and have demanded it be withdrawn until after COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings have been lifted.
“We welcome engagement and collaboration with our fellow clan members, the hereditary chiefs and all levels of government, once it is safe for our communities to gather,” they said.
The memorandum is aimed at addressing broader land claim issues and does not change anything in the ongoing dispute over the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline. In an earlier statement on April 28, the hereditary chiefs called the MOU “a step in the right direction,” but reaffirmed their opposition to the natural gas project.
Opposition to construction of 670-kilometre pipeline set off demonstrations and blockades that shut down large parts of the national economy in February.
The five communities represented by the elected chiefs have all signed on to the project and a number of Wet’suwet’en people are working on the construction, which is ongoing.
The Interior News has an interview scheduled for this afternoon with Chief Maureen Luggi (elected leader of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation) and has reached out to the hereditary chiefs and province for comment on the disconnect between the two statements.