Wet’suwet’en People to Decide on Proposed Deal With Canada

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett called the arrangement a milestone in the history of Canada.
March 1, 2020, 8:26pm
Hereditary chief Woos of the Wet'suwet'en Nation
Chief Woos speaks to reporters Sunday, March 1. Photo by Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press

After a new round of talks between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and provincial and federal politicians—this time without RCMP patrolling the First Nation’s land reclamation camps—three stakeholders at the negotiating table announced a tentative deal Sunday.

Though details of the agreement will remain private while Wet’suwet’en members review it, Chief Woos, a hereditary chief from the Wet’suwet’en Nation, said the deal builds on a landmark title rights case at a press conference in Smithers, B.C.

“It’s not over yet,” Chief Woos, who also goes by Frank Alec, told reporters Sunday morning.

If the deal is approved, Woos said it could help ensure the months-long standoff between police and Indigenous people in Canada is never repeated. On February 6, militarized RCMP raided Wet’suwet’en land defender camps to make way for construction of a $6.6 billion natural gas pipeline, which in turn sparked Indigenous-led rail, highway and port blockades in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en.

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“I think it’s a good way through,” Chief Woos told VICE by phone following the press conference Sunday. “That arrangement spells out a memorandum of understanding with some agreed-upon items, and work that needs to be done soon.”

Carolyn Bennett, federal minister of Indigenous-Crown relations, echoed that the deal builds on a Supreme Court decision that recognized land title rights of Indigenous people in British Columbia. “It is about rights and title, and it is about making sure that this never happens again,” she said.

Since Thursday, federal police and Coastal GasLink pipeline workers have backed off Wet’suwet’en territory to allow for nation-to-nation talks, Woos confirmed. The RCMP retreat came after weeks of cross-country blockades put pressure on provincial and federal governments to respectfully meet Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs at the negotiating table.

Woos said the agreement is not with the RCMP, or the pipeline company, but that the hereditary chiefs are open to dialogue with both after the deal is signed.

Blockades across Canada continue to stop trains and disrupt government proceedings. Just one week ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the blockades were hurting families and do “nothing to advance the cause of reconciliation.”

Woos expressed appreciation for the Indigenous youth who organized the solidarity actions. He said he hopes other nations who stood up for Wet’suwet’en rights will be able to follow the same path to dialogue with government.

“The peaceful demonstrations, people have a right to do that,” Woos said. “It’s not just about Wet’suwet’en issues, we know that there are situations out there too that need to be looked at by the governments and the provinces.”

Woos said he encouraged Bennett to sit down with other nations who have stood up for rights and self-determination. “That’s the message that we definitely would like to share with our brothers and sisters across the country.”

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