Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs lead a march in mid-January down Smithers Main Street in opposition to the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline. (Chris Gareau photo)

Province, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs announce reconciliation process

A potlatch feast will be held in March by the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to discuss with clans.

Work on reconciliation is moving ahead between the Province and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

A media release late Thursday afternoon reads that a bahtlats (potlatch or feast) will be hosted by the hereditary chiefs in March to share information and initiate discussion with the Wet’suwet’en clans and house groups.

The ultimate goal is for B.C. to affirm Wet’suwet’en rights and title.

While the release stresses the effort is not about any one project, it comes as legal action against and resistance to the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline is still in full force, with the company moving forward on construction of a work camp south of Houston and the Unist’ot’en camp of the Wet’suwet’en Dark House accusing the company of activity going beyond an interim injunction and agreement with the RCMP.

Unist’ot’en Freda Huson said via text a couple hours before the release that Coastal GasLink is “speeding up the process,” pointing out that the camp agreed to not get in the way of “preliminary work” during an interim injunction set to end May 1, something she said does not go as far as the 10 housing units Coastal GasLink announced Tuesday it is transporting to the area in the next few weeks.

Coastal GasLink said in its release Tuesday that the housing units will be occupied by local employees and contractors who over the next few months will focus on building access roads and conducting right-of-way clearing ahead of “anticipation of construction, which is not expected to get underway until next year.”

That release also said the company was to remove a “temporary structure” at one end of the Morice River bridge near the Unist’ot’en camp because it impedes safe access for the heavy equipment and housing units. The company asked the Unist’ot’en camp to move or replace the structure, but Huson said her matriarch chief would not let them. Neither the company nor Huson clarified what that structure was.

The following is the full release on the reconciliation process between the Province and Office of the Wet’suwet’en (hereditary chiefs organization):

The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, Premier John Horgan and Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, have issued the following statement to mark the start of a new reconciliation process:

The Office of the Wet’suwet’en and Province of British Columbia are committed to explore a path forward together, government-to-government, that seeks to build trust over time and meaningfully advance reconciliation. This process has emerged from decades of denial of Wet’suwet’en rights and title. Both parties believe that the time has come to engage in meaningful nation-to-nation discussions with the goal of B.C. affirming Wet’suwet’en rights and title.

The Office of the Wet’suwet’en and Province are undertaking a process focused on Wet’suwet’en title, rights, laws and traditional governance throughout the Wet’suwet’en Yintah, or territory.

Our discussions will be guided by Wet’suwet’en law, the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and Canadian jurisprudence, including the Supreme Court of Canada’s Delgamuukw Gisday’ Wa decision. We stress that our commitment to lasting reconciliation is not connected to any specific project. These discussions are not transactional, but a real commitment to reconciliation.

To support this work, the Province has appointed Murray Rankin as B.C.’s representative to help guide and design the process between the Province and the Office of the Wet’suwet’en. Mr. Rankin, a lawyer and mediator, has an understanding of the Supreme Court’s historic Delgamuukw Gisday’ Wa decision and an abiding commitment to better understand the history and current reality of the Wet’suwet’en people.

As a key step in creating this new foundation for reconciliation, the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs will host a bahtlats (potlatch or feast) in March 2019 to share information and initiate discussion with the Wet’suwet’en Clans and House groups. The goal is to involve all in this dialogue. The bahtlats is an established governance and decision-making process under Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership protocols. This work builds on discussions that have been ongoing since the Premier and minister visited the territory last August. A public announcement will follow after the official commencement of our discussions.

We all recognize that the path forward will involve challenges. It will take a willingness to innovate and take bold steps together. This engagement is a historic opportunity to advance Wet’suwet’en self-determination and self-governance, and for the Province and Wet’suwet’en Nation to establish a deeper relationship based on respect and recognition of rights.

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