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Feds, province, Wetsuwet’en reach deal on rights and title, pipeline construction resumes

Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations

Following three days of talks in Smithers, a resolution to the ongoing issue of some Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposing construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline has been reached.

Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations; Scott Fraser, B.C.’s Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation; and Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Woos announced the agreement Sunday.

The talks focused on two separate topics – the recognition of Wet’suwet’en rights and title throughout the Yintah (territory) and the issues arising out of the Coastal GasLink (CGL) project. The topics were discussed separately.

“With respect to rights and title, the parties focused intensely on commitments to an expedited process to implement Wet’suwet’en rights and title,” the three said in a joint statement. “The result of these discussions was a draft arrangement that will be reviewed by the Wet’suwet’en clan members through Wet’suwet’en governance protocols for ratification.”

If ratified, Fraser and Bennett have agreed to return to Wet’suwet’en territory to sign. If ratified, the parties agreed to implement title on an expedited basis.

“This arrangement for the Wet’suwet’en will breathe life into the Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa decision so that future generations do not have to face conflicts like the one they face today,” according to the statement. “As the late chief Wah tah Kwets (Pat Namox) said in the Delgamuukw case, ‘It is up to us to create a new memory in the minds of our children.'”

It is unclear, however,  when, and if, blockades around the country in support of the Wet’suwet’en will come down. 

Regarding the Coastal GasLink project: “The province agreed to provide further information on the project. All parties at the table recognize that the differences relating to the CGL project remain.”

However, at a news conference following the talks in Smithers, Fraser pointed out the project is permitted and construction of the pipeline continue. Coastal GasLink president David Pfeiffer said work will get underway today.

“Coastal GasLink appreciates the dialogue that has occurred over the past several days and the fact that significant progress has been made to address the concerns of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs,” he said in a statement. ” … Coastal GasLink appreciates that a path has been identified to address significant issues of aboriginal title and rights of the Wet’suwet’en people while recognizing that Coastal GasLink is fully permitted and remains on track for a 2023 in-service date. While much has been accomplished, much work remains and we wish all parties success as their work continues and the Wet’suwet’en people consider the proposed arrangement.”

Debbie Pierre, executive director, Office of the Wet’suwet’en, also commented on the proposed rights and title arrangement:

“This is a momentous moment. The Dini ze and Ts’ake’ze of our past left this world with no certainty and pain. Today our Dini ze and Ts’ake’ze have carried their words forward in principle. It is time now that all Wet’suwet’en unite to build success for all. I encourage all to look past the fear of success and embrace the change that our forefathers saw for us.”

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