Wet’suwet’en member Bonnie George raises her arms as she leave talks with Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relation, Carolyn Bennett and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in Smithers, B.C., Thursday, February 27, 2020. All sides where meeting to discuss the ending blockades happening across the country. The blockades are set up by those opposed to the LNG pipeline in northern British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Wet’suwet’en member Bonnie George raises her arms as she leave talks with Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relation, Carolyn Bennett and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in Smithers, B.C., Thursday, February 27, 2020. All sides where meeting to discuss the ending blockades happening across the country. The blockades are set up by those opposed to the LNG pipeline in northern British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Wet’suwet’en supporters of pipeline don’t think their message is being heard

Wet’suwet’en are governed by both a traditional hereditary chief system and six elected band councils

Bonnie George walked out of the Office of the Wet’suwet’en holding her hands up in the air in a triumphant gesture.

Just hours earlier, the Wet’suwet’en matriarch and former Coastal GasLink employee had complained about being locked out of the office and her voice not being heard.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs were meeting with senior government ministers over a pipeline dispute that’s sparked national protests and led to railways and roads being shut down.

The talks began Thursday afternoon with Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and British Columbia Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser. The meetings have continued over the weekend.

The hereditary chiefs who oppose the natural gas pipeline cutting through their traditional territory have seen shows of support across the country, but Wet’suwet’en members are divided on the project.

George is among those who support the pipeline and showed up with more than a dozen people at the Office of the Wet’suwet’en looking for a chance to speak.

“It shouldn’t be like that,” she said, pointing at a locked door. “We need to work together as one.”

READ MORE: Ministers optimistic as talks with Wet’suwet’en chiefs continue for third day

George said she wasn’t invited to the meeting. Still, she went into the room on Thursday with others and made a statement, telling the gathering that the entire nation needs to be represented.

Hereditary Chief Na’moks, one of those opposed to the pipeline who has been sitting in meetings with ministers, said the Wet’suwet’en people who want the pipeline built have a “right to express themselves.”

“That’s one thing about our nation. We are very democratic. We didn’t chase them away,” he said Saturday.

“We listened to them.”

The Wet’suwet’en of northern British Columbia are governed by both a traditional hereditary chief system and six elected band councils.

The elected councils administer reserves, including one named the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, while the hereditary chiefs assert jurisdiction over the broader community they call the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

Five of the councils are among 20 elected First Nations that have approved the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline. But the hereditary chiefs maintain the band councils only have authority over reserve lands created under the Indian Act, and cannot approve the pipeline route through 22,000 square kilometres of traditional territory over which they assert authority.

A sixth Wet’suwet’en elected council, the Hagwilget, declined to sign an agreement, deferring to hereditary leadership because the pipeline did not cross the village boundaries.

The dispute over the pipeline also encompasses other unsettled land rights and title issues, including who has the right to negotiate with governments and corporations, the fact that the land is not covered by a treaty and remains unceded, and a 1997 court case that recognized the hereditary chiefs’ authority and the exclusive right of the Wet’suwet’en peoples to the land but did not specify the boundaries.

Solidarity protests and blockades have broken out across the country since the RCMP moved in on Feb. 6 to enforce an injunction to stop a blockade erected by those opposed to the pipeline that prevented Coastal GasLink workers from entering the site.

While George is in favour of the pipeline now, she said that wasn’t always the case.

She asked questions and did research before making her decision. She said she wants others to do the same.

“It’s going to bring in resources,” George said.

“It’s not a strange thing to have a pipeline in our territory. We have had a pipeline in our area since the mid-’60s and it hasn’t caused any harm to our environment.”

Revenue from the pipeline will help pay for programs that benefit people living on and off the reserve, she said.

“It’s really disheartening to see protests all across Canada,” George said.

“I don’t agree with the protests. I think there is an easier way for us to sort this out.”

Elaine Morris-Stevens of the Tsayu clan also wants the pipeline built and complained that some voices in the Wet’suwet’en Nation are not being heard.

“Right now, they have three people in there who are spokespersons for us,” Morris-Stevens said.

“They don’t speak for us.”

She said the pipeline will create jobs.

“I’m 45 years old now and I still don’t have a job.”

READ MORE: Caution, with a time limit: How Trudeau’s patience with rail blockades ended

Gary Naziel, a Wet’suwet’en hereditary subchief, said the only way to “fix things” is to have a feast with all the chiefs.

Although he met with the federal and provincial ministers, he waited outside the locked doors of the Office of the Wet’suwet’en with the others.

He said the pipeline will help the economy in the region.

“The truth is most of our members are for the pipeline.”

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coastal GasLinkIndigenousPipeline

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
5 more deaths, 131 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

Those 18-years and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register for the vaccine

Rotary Club of Salmon Arm president Norm Brown talks about the work the city’s Rotary Clubs do for the community during a Rotary 75th Anniversary event at the Blackburn Park picnic shelter on Saturday, May 8, 2021. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)
Salmon Arm Rotarians mark 75th anniversary

Flags placed around Blackburn Park picnic shelter for video shoot

RCMP (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
High-risk takedown on Highway 1 following Anglemont shooting

Upon further investigation, the vehicle and its occupants were not associated with the shooting

Police watchdog find Salmon Arm RCMP have no involvement in head-on collision. (File photo)
Police watchdog finds Salmon Arm RCMP not involved in Highway 1 crash

Woman seriously injured on April 22 after head-on collision

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The southern mountain caribou, an iconic species for the Splatsin First Nation, is threatened with extinction, much to the dismay of the First Nation. (Province of B.C. photo)
Okanagan First Nation band concerned over dwindling caribou herd

Southern mountain caribou at risk of extinction, much to dismay of Splatsin First Nation near Enderby

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
UPDATE: Winfield road open following police, coroner investigation

Pelmewash Parkway closure near Highway 97 connection

Kelowna resident Sally Wallick helped rescue a kayaker in distress a week and a half ago. (Sally Wallick/Contributed)
VIDEO: Kelowna woman rescues capsized kayaker in Okanagan Lake

Sally Wallick is asking people to be prepared for the cold water and unpredictable winds

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Most Read