Ministers 'available' to meet Wet'suwet'en chiefs but chiefs won't be there
Published Wednesday, February 19, 2020 7:04PM EST
VANCOUVER -- Canada's minister in charge of Indigenous relations is making a bid to meet with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, but with the First Nation's leadership en route to meet supporters outside British Columbia, the likelihood of such a meeting seems bleak.
The chiefs' opposition to a natural gas pipeline has seized the economy as protesters blockade roads and railways across the country and the federal government is facing heavy pressure to act.
Carolyn Bennett said in an open letter Wednesday that she and her British Columbia counterpart Scott Fraser will be available in northern B.C. as early as Thursday to meet with any of the hereditary chiefs who might be willing to talk.
"We understand that you have urgent issues to resolve and require dedicated attention from both levels of government to work with you in charting a peaceful path forward," the letter says.
"We are more than willing to find any mutually acceptable process with you and the Wet'suwet'en Nation to sit down and address the urgent and long-term issues at hand."
The letter said the ministers understand many of the chiefs may not be available in Smithers, and the ministers commit to returning when they will be there.
Na'moks, one of five hereditary clan chiefs who lead the First Nation under the traditional form of governance, said the other four were heading to Mohawk territory Wednesday to thank members of the First Nation for their solidarity, while he attends a funeral.
They remain unwilling to meet with the ministers until the RCMP and pipeline builder Coastal GasLink pull out of the traditional territory, he said.
"Remove RCMP from our territory, remove (Coastal GasLink) from our territory, and we'll have discussions, because right now that puts us under duress. You can't have free and open discussions if you're under duress," Na'moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale, said.
There are an additional 13 house chief positions below the clan chiefs, although some are vacant and it remains unclear if they would meet without the clan chiefs present.
Na'moks said he's not concerned that the chiefs might miss a window of opportunity for dialogue with the federal government.
"We've been here for thousands of years," he said. "It's their timeline, it's not ours."
Coastal GasLink could not immediately be reached for comment.
RCMP said in a statement Tuesday the force is aware of the request for a small mobile detachment to leave a remote area of British Columbia and discussions are underway on next steps.
The detachment is where Mounties recently arrested 28 people when officers enforced an injunction on behalf of Coastal GasLink.
Most officers have left the area since the RCMP said its major operations in the region had concluded, but they've said the mobile unit would remain in place and they'll continue "patrols of the corridor to ensure everyone's safety."
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe convened a conference-call meeting with other premiers Wednesday and said afterwards they are asking to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the ongoing blockades.
Moe said in a statement the premiers discussed the impacts of the blockades on their respective jurisdictions and economies.
They want to meet with Trudeau on Thursday via teleconference to discuss paths to a peaceful resolution and an end to the blockades.
Trudeau and his cabinet have rejected demands from conservatives on Parliament Hill and in provincial legislatures to break up the blockades by Indigenous protesters and their supporters as pressure on the Liberals to solve the crisis continues to mount.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Wednesday the government won't issue an ultimatum to remove the blockades.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2020.