In the story ‘Hereditary chiefs unhappy with Wet’suwet’en’s pipeline agreement’ published in the Lakes District News’ Jan. 7, 2015, Jeff Brown, Hereditary Chief of the Gitdumden Clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, said that all hereditary chiefs were opposed to the proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline project.
Wet’suwet’en First Nation (WFN) signed an agreement with the province in December 2014 for the Coastal GasLink pipeline project in which WFN will receive approximately $2.8 million.
Chief Karen Ogen responded to the article saying that the hereditary chiefs have been “extensively consulted” since the inception of the Coastal Gas Link Project and through the planning stage by both the province and the pipeline proponent, and will continue to be consulted through the development of the project.
Ogen said Brown’s comments in the article represent “his own views” and not the collective views of the hereditary chiefs or WFN members. Ogen added that not all hereditary chiefs are opposed to the pipeline agreement – “only a select few.”
David de Wit, natural resource manager of the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, said in a statement that the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are currently opposed to the pipeline agreement.
“It is premature for any entity to review or sign benefit agreements without knowing the full extent of impacts,” he said.
The Office of the Wet’suwet’en (OW) – which is different from the elected government of Wet’suwet’en First Nation – represents the Wet’suwet’en hereditary governance system of clans and house groups.
“The province knows that the Office of the Wet’suwet’en is opposed to the pipelines that are proposed to cross through the Morice Watershed, and Burnie protected area. Therefore, there is no discussion with the province in regards to any liquefied natural gas agreement with the OW,” said de Wit.
According to Ogen, apart from consulting with the hereditary chiefs, WFN also made an effort to inform its members about the proposed pipeline agreement. Ogen said WFN held monthly community member meetings and was open to members’ feedback.
“The meetings are advertised on a WFN Facebook page; we have averaged about 20 members each meeting; and we had our staff call the members who reside in and around the community,” she said.
“Communication is a two way street,” she added. “No one cared until we signed [the pipeline agreement] and all of a sudden they [members] were shocked.”
“We did our due diligence in terms of holding monthly community member meetings and providing as much information to our members,” she added.
“As the elected government of WFN’s 242 members, WFN chief and council have a responsibility to fairly represent our members in negotiations with the federal and provincial governments. We take this responsibility very seriously and work hard to consult with all factions of the WFN community to ensure that their views are heard,” said Ogen.
“As the elected government of WFN, we are answerable to our members and we have worked hard to be as fair and transparent as possible throughout our dealings in this and other government matters. We are accountable to our members and take our responsibility to communicate with them very seriously,” she added.
“We are always open to members’ feedback on the many issues that we encounter. Council members consult on a daily basis with members of our community. We have listened to those who have chosen to speak and have integrated their concerns into our work. We are committed to continuing with this approach and are fully comfortable that the decision to sign the agreement with the province is a decision that is in the best interests of and supported by the members of WFN,” said Ogen.
“I was elected chief on a “four pillar” mandate (language and culture, health and wellness, education and training, and housing) and I am proud to say that I consider that we have been successful in achieving our stated objectives so far during our term. It has not been an easy road and we have had to make some difficult decisions, yet we feel that our work has already shown meaningful benefits for our members. We are comfortable that our members value and support the opportunities for jobs, contracts and economic self-determination that can be achieved through responsible use of our lands and resources. We are not going to simply sit back and administer poverty where jobs and prosperity are within our reach. We support economic development opportunities where they can be achieved in a way that protects and respects our Aboriginal title, environment and culture,” she continued.
“We listen and we have heard from our members that they want an economic future for themselves and for their children. We can avoid clashes between our Hereditary Chiefs and elected government by following the traditional hereditary protocols and consulting with our families and clans in a consensus building process, rather than speaking to the press or going to social media. We all need to work together to achieve economic self-determination for ourselves and our children,” she said.
“Despite our differences, the Wet’suwet’en people are one people. We face significant challenges and cannot afford to let our differences divide us any further, especially when it comes to our self-sufficiency and culture. We must to continue to work together through mutual respect, strong leadership, progressive, proactive and strategic activities that advance the social, economic and cultural values of our community.”