Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have terminated their access agreement with Coastal GasLink.
In a letter sent to the company last week, the chiefs demand the immediate halt of work on Coastal GasLink’s pipeline in Wet’suwet’in territory south of Houston and remove of all the company’s equipment and personnel from Camp 9A on Dark House territory, as well as the neighbouring Gidimt’en, Tsayu, and Laksamshu clan territories, by January 10.
“If departure is not immediate, the road will be closed to vehicle traffic,” the chiefs say in the letter, adding that the company can make further arrangements to remove its equipment.
Coastal GasLink, in a statement issued Sunday, says it discovered trees were felled across the Morice River Forest Service Road at kilometre 39, making the road impassable.
“While it is unclear who felled these trees, this action is a clear violation of the Interlocutory Injunction as it prevents our crews from accessing work areas,” the statement said.
The Wet’suwet’en demand comes a week after the Supreme Court issued a second injunction allowing the company to build the pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory. The first injunction was issued last January and resulted in RCMP removing a blockade to enforce the injunction. The access agreement was subsequently negotiated between the parties.
“Canada’s courts have acknowledged in Delgamuukw-Gisdaywa v. The Queen that the Wet’suwet’en people, represented by our hereditary chiefs, have never ceded nor surrendered title to the 22,000km2 of Wet’suwet’en territory,” the chiefs say in a statement posted to their website. “The granting of the interlocutory injunction by B.C.’s Supreme Court has proven to us that Canadian courts will ignore their own rulings and deny our jurisdiction when convenient, and will not protect our territories or our rights as Indigenous peoples.”
In making her ruling, Justice Marguerite Church stated: “The defendants may genuinely believe in their rights under indigenous law to prevent the plaintiff from entering Dark House territory, but the law does not recognize any right to blockade and obstruct the plaintiff from pursuing lawfully authorized activities.”
Coastal GasLink notes that the Wet’suwet’in notice reads: “While Dark House is generally opting out of the access agreement, Dark House requests that the terms of the access agreement continue to be followed for CGL’s access across the Morice River Bridge as set out in Schedule A of the Access Agreement,” which, according to the company, appears to indicate that continued access to work areas would be provided in accordance with the agreement.
“We are disappointed that after nearly a year of successful joint implementation of the access agreement the Unist’ot’en has decided to terminate it,” the company says in a statement. “Our preference has always been to find mutually agreeable solutions through productive and meaningful dialogue. We have reached out to better understand their reasons and are hopeful we can find a mutually agreeable path forward. To that end, we are requesting to meet with Unist’ot’en and the hereditary chiefs as soon as possible. Over the past year, Coastal GasLink has repeatedly requested face-to-face meetings with the Unist’ot’en and the Office of the Wet’suwet’en but these requests have either been ignored or rejected by these groups.”
It says that in granting Coastal GasLink an Interlocutory Injunction, the B.C .Supreme Court made clear that it is unlawful to obstruct or blockade Coastal GasLink from pursuing its permitted and authorized activities.
“The court found that this project is in the public interest and will bring substantial benefits to First Nations, local communities, British Columbia and Canada,” the company statement says. “The court also recognized that the project is supported by all 20 First Nations governments along the route, including the chiefs and councils elected to represent the five Wet’suwet’en bands which represent Wet’suwet’en people. There are many Wet’suwet’en Nation members working on this project today who are directly benefiting from the project through training and employment, and who want to see those benefits continue.”
The hereditary chiefs, however, maintain their law supersedes Canadian law.
“We reaffirm that Anuc ‘nu’at’en (Wet’suwet’en law) remains the highest law on Wet’suwet’en land and must be respected,” the chiefs say. “We have always held the responsibility and authority to protect our unceded territories. Protection of our yintah (traditional territories) is at the heart of Anuc ‘nu’at’en, and we will practice our laws for the future generations.”