Traditional chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation have arrived in Kahnawake, Que., as they continue their tour of Mohawk communities in eastern Canada where rail blockades in solidarity with their cause have been erected.
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink project that would carry natural gas to the B.C. coast through their traditional territory, though others in the community support the pipeline.
Countrywide protests and blockades followed a move by RCMP to enforce a court injunction this month against the hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who had been obstructing an access road to a Coastal GasLink work site near Houston, B.C.
“The reason why we are here is so that we could express our friendship and support and gratefulness to the Kahnawake people,” Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chief Woos told reporters late on Saturday, following meetings with members of the Mohawk community.
“We have had bonds in the past and it’s a good feeling to be here. We shared our culture and traditions and exchanged information about who we are as the people of this land. That’s what happened this morning.”
Their Quebec visit comes one day after the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs visited supporters at Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory to thank them for their support. The Tyendinaga Mohawk have been blockading the CN Rail line near Belleville, Ont.
Watch: Grateful to Kahnawake people, says Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chief Woos
One of the hereditary chiefs said Friday his people are willing to engage in nation-to-nation talks with the B.C. and federal governments, but not until the RCMP in B.C. have left traditional Wet’suwet’en territory entirely and Coastal GasLink, the pipeline company, ceases work in the area.
The comments came after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau emerged from meetings with senior cabinet ministers on Friday, saying that barricades on rail lines and other major transportation routes must come down after two weeks of calls for patience and stalled attempts at negotiation.
Watch: Trudeau calls blockades ‘unacceptable and untenable’
Trudeau emphasized that injunctions to clear blocked rail lines must be followed — a comment Public Safety Minister Bill Blair later clarified on CBC Radio’s The House.
“He said that the injunctions that exist should be obeyed. He did not give direction to the police to enforce this,” Blair said. “Governments don’t give the police direction. Police are informed by the law, by the courts, by their policies and by their procedures.”
At least two blockades in Quebec have come down since Trudeau’s comments, neither on Indigenous territory.
Late Friday, protesters left a site in St-Lambert, Que., south of Montreal, where they had been blockading railway tracks since Wednesday.
Riot police arrived in the afternoon, after Trudeau had spoken, to enforce an injunction ordering protesters off Canadian National Railway tracks in St-Lambert.
Another small blockade set up near L’Isle-Verte, Que., on Wednesday was also dismantled late Friday, provincial police said.
The traditional chiefs today took part in “Words at Edge of the Woods” — a welcoming ceremony that took place at the Mohawk longhouse in Kahnawake.
Mohawk leaders and Wet’suwet’en chiefs are expected to address reporters later Saturday.
Watch: Wet’suwet’en member wants protesters to ‘back down’