'A milestone in the history of Canada': Government officials and Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs reach tentative agreement
SMITHERS, B.C. -- After three days of meetings, government officials and Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs announced Sunday that they have reached a tentative agreement on Indigenous rights and title and the liquefied natural gas pipeline currently under construction in Wet'suwet'en traditional territory.
“It’s quite a milestone for all of us to view this together,” said Chief Woos, one of those involved in the negotiations.
The draft agreement is not being made public until the Wet’suwet’en peoples have a chance to review it, but Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister, Carolyn Bennett said the agreement “is building on the Supreme Court decision" that confirmed Indigenous land rights in 1997.
"It is about rights and title throughout the yintah," Bennett said.
At the centre of the last few days of discussions is the Coastal GasLink pipeline project, opposition to which led to weeks of protests and rail and road blockades across the country.
The company halted construction during the four days of meetings, which was one of the requests made by the chiefs to get them to the negotiating table. The RCMP also paused patrols in the area of the pipeline for the duration of the meetings.
British Columbia's Indigenous Relations minister Scott Fraser said Coastal Gaslink is “permitted and allowed to go ahead and do the work,” but that the governments do expect the company to work closely with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en and the Wet'suwet'en people to address concerns.
On Sunday, Chief Woos reiterated his stance on the project, saying “the hereditary chiefs are opposed to any pipeline going through their territory.”
In a statement, Coastal Gaslink wrote it “appreciates that a path has been identified to address significant issues of Aboriginal Title and Rights,” but that construction in will resume Monday.
Protesters are still at the B.C. legislature and blockades remain in place in Quebec and Ontario.
“We want some more clarification from the Wet’suwet’en chiefs before we make any final decision,” explained Mohawk nation secretary at Kahnawake Kenneth Deer. “No decision today to take down the barricade.”
The draft is “going through the Wet’suwet’en system of review,” explained Wet’suwet’en lawyer Peter Grant. "Once that is done, then it will be public.”
Grant was council for the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en nations in Delgamuukw v. The Queen. It’s the landmark 1997 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that confirmed Aboriginal title entails rights to the land itself, not just the right to extract resources from it.
“We have come a long way,” said Grant. “It’s a draft agreement, but it is very powerful.”
Woos said the review process will likely take two weeks.
“We’re at a point in this moment in time to see if the arrangements will work in all sorts or all aspects for what we stand for as Wet’suwet’en,” he explained.
On the talks themselves, all parties said they remained respectful.
“In three days, I’ve never seen a more productive and respectful table that’s moved us to an arrangement,” said Fraser.
He went on to say that he and Bennett are “willing and able to return and continue this good work and certainly pen any agreements that are there.”