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UPDATED: Elected Wet’suwet’en chiefs shut out of MOU process; Rustad calls for delay in signing

Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad
Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad

Elected Wet’suwet’en chiefs say they have been shut out of a memorandum of understanding on rights and title set to signed by several hereditary chiefs, the province, and Ottawa.

“The MOU consultation process has lacked any semblance of credibility,” say four elected chiefs in a statement issued Friday. “The federal government, the provincial government and the hereditary chiefs have completely ignored many clan members and elected chiefs. These discussions have not included openness and respect for all parties.”

Ottawa, Victoria and some hereditary chiefs announced Thursday they would sign the MOU on May 14. The deal was reached earlier this year following days of meetings between the chiefs and Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser and federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett in Smithers. The meetings were prompted by protests in several cities and blockades of rail lines here in B.C. and Alberta.

The hereditary chiefs said they had to take the deal back to their members before signing.

“Discussions must adhere to a process where all clan members, hereditary chiefs and elected chiefs have an opportunity for full and informed engagement,” say elected chiefs Patricia Prince, Nee Tahi Buhn Indian Band; Rosemarie Skin, Skin Tyee Nation; Dan George, Ts’ilh Kaz Kod First Nation; Marueen Luggi, Wet’suwet’en First Nation; Sandra George, Witset First Nation.

“The elected chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nations have not agree to, nor have they given their support to sign, a proposed memorandum of understanding on rights and title within Canada or British Columbia,” they said. “All clan members have a voice that must be heard and they must be included in the process of ratifying any agreement with government officials. Negotiations cannot move forward until all parties agree to discuss governance amongst the Wet’suwet’en people so that we can work together with all levels of government.”

Nechako Lake MLA John Rustad is calling on Premier John Horgan to delay signing the MOU  until all clan members, including the elected chiefs, can be engaged and ratify it.

“We need all parties involved and to be engaged, and this includes the elected chiefs and all clan members,” said Rustad. “It’s unacceptable that both the provincial and federal governments, in the middle of a pandemic, are planning to move ahead without proper engagement and consultation. You can’t arrive at long-lasting solutions by ignoring the people who live there.

“The elected chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en have already declared that the MOU process lacks any semblance of credibility without their involvement,” Rustad added. “How can John Horgan and the NDP proceed with a signing ceremony on May 14th while ignoring the elected chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en people? The solution lies in genuine engagement with all clan members, including elected and hereditary chiefs. Any other solution will be divisive and prolong the disagreements and confusion.”

The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have since released a statement saying they will seek at virtual meeting the elected councils.

“Given the recommendations from the Provincial Health Officer and the First Nations Health Authority to continue the physical distancing measures and avoid non-essential travel, we are seeking a virtual meeting with the elected councils the week of May 4th, 2020,” according to the hereditary chiefs.

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