Senior government ministers say they remain optimistic talks with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs will break an impasse over a pipeline dispute that has sparked widespread protests and transport disruptions.
Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and British Columbia Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser say the discussions are complex and deal with difficult issues, but are progressing respectfully.
In a news conference today, Bennett said the fact that the conversations are continuing is “a very good sign.”
The talks began Thursday afternoon in northern B.C. and continued late into Friday night, and another update is expected later today.
“They’re difficult discussions because it’s not only about the rights and title that was determined by the Supreme Court, but it’s 150 years of broken promises and a cynicism that is completely understandable,” said Bennett.
Some Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are opposed to a natural gas pipeline crossing their traditional territory, an issue that has spurred solidarity protests and rail blockades across the country.
The demonstrations have disrupted passenger and freight train service over the last three weeks and police have recently moved to dismantle some of the blockades.
Via Rail said Friday that most of its service will be gradually restored by Tuesday, including between Toronto and Montreal or Ottawa. Solidarity protests and blockades have broken out across the country since the RCMP moved into Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia on Feb. 6 to enforce an injunction to stop a blockade erected by those opposed to the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline.
The Wet’suwet’en are governed by both a traditional hereditary chief system and elected band councils. A majority of its councils have approved the pipeline, but some of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose it running through their traditional territory.
On Saturday, Hereditary Chief Na’Moks, who said he participated in the Friday meeting until about 10 p.m., explained that talks have involved First Nation rights and title, protecting the environment and fighting climate change.
Our exclusive interview with chiefs Na’Moks. 3rd day of talks with governments just started. Topics: rights and titles, environment, climate change. Parties still committed to find solutions at the table. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Wetsuweten?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Wetsuweten</a> <a href=”https://t.co/SjLAUI71BC”>https://t.co/SjLAUI71BC</a>
Na’moks said some progress was made on Friday, but reiterated that the issue was complex, and would take time to resolve.
The dispute also encompasses other unsettled land rights and title issues, including who has the right to negotiate with governments and corporations, the fact that the land is not covered by a treaty and remains unceded, and a 1997 court case that recognized the hereditary chiefs’ authority and the exclusive right of the Wet’suwet’en peoples to the land, but did not specify the boundaries.