Supporters of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline set up a support station at kilometre 39, just outside of Gidimt’en checkpoint near Houston B.C., on Wednesday January 8, 2020. The Wet’suwet’en peoples are occupying their land and trying to prevent a pipeline from going through it. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Supporters of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline set up a support station at kilometre 39, just outside of Gidimt’en checkpoint near Houston B.C., on Wednesday January 8, 2020. The Wet’suwet’en peoples are occupying their land and trying to prevent a pipeline from going through it. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Calls for dialogue as Coastal GasLink pipeline polarizes some in northern B.C.

Coastal GasLink is building the 670-kilometre pipeline from British Columbia’s northeast to Kitimat on the coast

A natural gas pipeline project has polarized many communities across northern B.C. in a dispute a Wet’suwet’en elder says he hopes will be resolved through dialogue.

Russell Tiljoe, 83, has long-established ties with the First Nation whose hereditary clan chiefs say the Coastal GasLink project has no authority to run through its 22,000 square kilometres of traditional territory without their consent.

His own late father was one of the clan chiefs, but Tiljoe is not a hereditary chief because he said the governance system is traced through the female family line.

“I’m honestly sitting in the middle and not taking sides,” Tiljoe said in an interview from Houston, the nearest town to a Coastal GasLink site at the centre of the dispute.

Coastal GasLink is building the 670-kilometre pipeline from British Columbia’s northeast to Kitimat on the coast. The company has signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nation councils along its path, but the hereditary clan chiefs who are leaders under the traditional form of governance say the project has no authority without their consent.

Last year, the conflict inspired rallies across the country when RCMP enforced an injunction and arrested 14 supporters of the hereditary chiefs who blocked access to a logging road leading to the work site on Wet’suwet’en traditional territory.

ALSO READ: B.C. Green Party interim leader to visit Wet’suwet’en camps

The B.C. Supreme Court expanded the injunction Dec. 31 and the hereditary clan chiefs responded with an eviction notice to Coastal GasLink, leading to a new standoff.

Tiljoe said he hopes the dispute doesn’t come down to a physical confrontation and that it can be resolved through dialogue between the Wet’suwet’en hereditary clan chiefs and the provincial government, as well as between the hereditary chiefs and those who are elected to administer reserves.

“It may take a long time to be able to come to a consensus agreement, but it is there, we just have to find it,” he said.

Tiljoe said the project has created some tension in the community. Four years ago, he said he spoke in favour of considering the potential economic benefits of the project at a meeting in the feast hall, where Wet’suwet’en decisions are made under the traditional governance structure.

“Since then, there are a lot of people who will have nothing to do with me. If I’m not against it, then I’m for it, the way they see it,” he said.

The hereditary clan chiefs have made it clear they will never support the project. At the other end of the spectrum, Premier John Horgan declared this week that the provincially permitted project will be built, and the rule of law must prevail.

Everyone, from the chiefs to the company and the RCMP talk about their commitment to dialogue, but so far dialogue hasn’t solved the impasse.

Na’moks, a spokesman for the hereditary clan chiefs who also goes by John Ridsdale, suggested that expecting full agreement within any community is unrealistic, just as it is at any other level of government.

“Why do you think there are three elected parties, do you think they all get along?”

Still, he said the number of Wet’suwet’en members who support the project is “quite small and limited,” compared with local opponents.

Coastal GasLink says the hereditary clan chiefs have not responded to requests to meet, while Na’moks has said the chief will only meet with leaders in the provincial and federal governments.

The project has also divided non-Indigenous neighbours of the Wet’suwet’en and local leaders are being cautious about how they talk about the project.

Local MLA Doug Donaldson declined an interview request, deferring to Horgan’s comments.

New Democrat MP Taylor Bachrach, who represents the sprawling northwest corner of the province including the area of dispute as well as several communities that support it, would not say if he supports the pipeline or opposes it.

“This is a really difficult and divisive issue for our communities and our region,” he said, adding his focus is on safety and encouraging open communication.

Bachrach said he’s hopeful disagreements, like how RCMP operate in the area, can be resolved through negotiation.

“At the same time, there are big unanswered questions at the heart of this issue, and I don’t think those larger questions are likely to be answered in the coming days.”

Since Bachrach made those comments, RCMP set up a checkpoint with a stated intention to prevent the dispute on the road from escalating, but the checkpoint itself has become the subject of a complaint by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association after two people were denied entry.

Gladys Atrill, the acting mayor of Smithers, a town about 45 minutes from the entrance to the logging road, said council is also not taking a position on the project, although it has a good working relationship with the hereditary chiefs whose office is their town.

She said some members of the community are employed by Coastal GasLink or its contractors but couldn’t say if the division of opinion lands for or against the pipeline. There are strong views on either side but also a “milieu of people in the middle,” and she believes the majority of people are most concerned about safety, Atrill added.

“Smithers is a diverse community. It’s a huge strength in community but of course it means people see things differently.”

Atrill said she hopes those directly involved in the conflict “hold fast, be cautious,” and remember that safety is primary.

“I would rather we take a little more time than do something we might regret,” she said.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coastal GasLink

Just Posted

Rachel Spanier opened her new business, Rikki Lou Who’s Gift Emporium at the corner of Alexander Street and Lakeshore Drive on May 11. Space at the rear of the store is dedicated to her other business, Head Gamez Hair & Company. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)
Lookie-loos welcome at new downtown Salmon Arm business

Rachel Spanier combines gift emporium and Head Gamez salon at one location

A thief or thieves broke into a kitchen at the grandstands at the Salmon Arm Fairgrounds recently, destroying a door apparently with the intention of stealing copper. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
Man found sleeping amidst damage on Salmon Arm fairgrounds

Agricultural association dismayed by vandalism, thefts in kitchen, dance studio

Quinn, left, and Adrian Van de Mosselaer are going through UBCO’s nursing program together after Quinn encouraged his brother to go back to school. (UBC Okanagan/Contributed)
UBC Okanagan student transitions from professional hockey to nursing

Adrian Van de Mosselaer credits his younger brother for the push to get him back to learning

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
One death, 39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

There are 484 active cases of the virus in the region currently

Letter writer concerned there was a lack of notice by School District 83 regarding the May 12 board meeting on the district’s Long Range Facilities Plan. Discussion at the meeting is expected to focus on Salmon Arm schools, including the J.L. Jackson campus. (Google maps image)
Letter: Public provided little notice on Salmon Arm school facilities meeting

Writer questions what constitutes proper communication

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

New homes are built in a housing construction development in the west-end of Ottawa on Thursday, May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Budget’s foreign-homebuyers tax could bring in $509 million over 4 years, PBO says

Liberals are proposing a one per cent tax on vacant homes owned by foreign non-residents

A Canadian flag patch is shown on a soldier’s shoulder in Trenton, Ont., on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. The Canadian Forces says it has charged one of its members in the death of an army reservist from British Columbia during a training exercise at a military base in Alberta last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
Canadian Forces member charged in death of army reservist during training exercise

Cpl. Lars Callsen has been charged with one count of negligence

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks during a press conference in the rotunda at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Wednesday May 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. to use remaining AstraZeneca vaccine for 2nd doses

Health officials say the change is due to the limited availability of the vaccine

A youth plays basketball in an otherwise quiet court in Toronto on Saturday April 17, 2021. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is urging the federal and provincial governments to fight COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on proven public health policy interventions including paid sick leave, and education rather than punitive enforcement measures. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Provinces issued more COVID-19 tickets during 2nd wave: CCLA report

‘A pandemic is a public health, not a public order, crisis,’ reads the report

Capt. Arpit Mahajan of the Canadian Forces Snowbirds - Snowbirds 2 - shows off his ‘Jenn Book’ dedicated to Capt. Jennifer Casey. Zoom screenshot
Homecoming for B.C.-raised Snowbirds pilot training in the province

Capt. Arpit Mahajan flies Snowbird 2 in his first year as a solo pilot with the team

(Glenmore Neighbours/Facebook)
VIDEO: Parade of ducklings stalls Glenmore traffic

Duck and ducklings trek across Glenmore, guided to pond by residents

Vernon’s Tanya Wick, human resources VP at Tolko Industries Ltd., has been named the 2021 HR Professional of the Year by the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources of British Columbia and Yukon. (CPHR BC & Yukon photo)
Okanagan resident gets top provincial award for HR excellence

Tolko’s Tanya Wick has earned the title of 2021 HR Professional of the Year

BC Housing minister David Eby. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Eby jabs back against Penticton mayor’s ad urging BC Premier to intervene in shelter dispute

Eby writes that Penticton’s ‘serious’ social issues won’t improve under leadership of the mayor

Most Read