Wet’suwet’en and Coastal GasLink head to the bargaining table

Wet’suwet’en and Coastal GasLink head to the bargaining table
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SMITHERS—Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and representatives of Coastal GasLink are headed to the bargaining table Thursday morning to talk over a temporary deal to allow pipeline company workers to enter their traditional territories, and to prevent more police action against land defenders.

The tentative deal was struck Wednesday night between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the RCMP at the Unist’ot’en camp, roughly 65 kilometres outside Houston, B.C. The Wet’suwet’en leaders want to prevent a repeat of Monday’s terrifying ordeal , when dozens of armed police officers overran the Gidimt’en checkpoint at kilometre 44 of Morice West Forest Service Road and arrested 14 people.

Land defenders grapple with heavily-armed police as the RCMP breached the Gitimt’en checkpoint barricade on Monday.  (Jesse Winter / Star Metro)

Brenda Michell, right, and her auntie Doris Rosso, who have helped run the healing lodge for years, said no agreement can be reached with the RCMP unless Coastal GasLink, the company trying to build a pipeline in Wet suwet in territory, agrees to let the healing lodge keep its gate for security reasons. Camp supporters and hereditary chiefs say the lodge has been firebombed, shot at and vandalized by pro-pipeline activists in the past and without the gate they won t feal safe.  (Jesse Winter / StarMetro Vancouver)

They also want to ensure the healing lodge at Unist’ot’en — built almost a decade ago to provide support services for Wet’suwet’en nation members — would not be affected if the police decide to enforce a B.C. Supreme Court injunction against the checkpoint set up on a bridge near the lodge by Wet’suwet’en land defenders. The barricade consists of a barbed-wire topped gate with trucks and cars parked behind it.

The lodge was not part of the Dec. 14 injunction granted to Coastal GasLink, which gave the Unist’ot’en camp 72 hours to remove the gate so the company could start work on a 670-kilometre pipeline to bring natural gas from the Dawson Creek area to an export facility to be built in Kitimat. It wasn’t until a second barricade was set up across the same road at the Gidimt’en camp in January that police decided to the enforce the injunction, which had been amended to include the new barricade.

Here’s what you need to know about the Wet’suwet’en protests

Coastal GasLink has said there’s no reason the lodge could not remain as long as the gate is opened. The company was granted the injunction after it argued the original checkpoint set up by the Unist’ot’en camp effectively stalled construction on the pipeline.

Wet suwet en hereditary Chief Namoks, left, and Chief Madeek react while listening to RCMP liaison officers speak during a meeting at the Unist ot en healing lodge on Wednesday afternoon.  (Jesse Winter)

Freda Huson, a Unist’ot’en camp resident who helped dream up and build the lodge, said Wednesday that enforcing the injunction against the checkpoint could put the lodge and those who use its services at risk. Meanwhile, Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chief Namoks made it clear during the meeting with RCMP that the gate had to remain — even if Coastal GasLink employees were let through — to protect the remote community, which has been threatened by violence from pro-pipeline activists.

This “soft access” means Coastal GasLink vehicles would be allowed through the manned gate by request.

Hereditary chiefs also made it clear Wednesday the deal with Coastal GasLink would be a temporary measure to ensure the safety of their people from further police action. They said they will continue to do everything they can to prevent the pipeline going forward.

Members of the RCMP liaison team speak with Wet suwet in hereditary chiefs inside the Unist ot en healing lodge at a meeting on Wednesday afternoon. They struck a tentative deal that would see the Wet suwet in people abide by the terms of an court injuction preventing them from blocking a pipeline company s access to their land, in exchange for an agreement that the police would not raid or otherwise enter the healing lodge without an invitation.  (Jesse Winter)

While the elected band council of the nearby Wet’suwet’en First Nation supports the pipeline project, all five of the clans that make up the territorial nation are revolting against the decision. The clan chiefs, who inherit their positions but are still considered integral leaders of their communities, say the First Nation’s band council only has jurisdiction over the reserve, not the entire traditional territories.

Each Wet’suwet’en clan is made up of a number of houses, also headed by hereditary chiefs. These house chiefs unanimously supported a decision to block Coastal GasLink from entering their territories, citing Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That article says Indigenous Peoples must not be “forcibly removed” from their territories.
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