Find out what you need to know about the draft treaty and how it affects Coastal GasLink and Wet`suwet`en`s solidarity blockades. Five elected wet`suwet`en councils have signed agreements with Coastal Gaslink on the 670-kilometre gas pipeline through north B.C. to Kitimat. Hereditary chiefs, federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and her provincial counterpart Scott Fraser, announced the overall intent of the proposed agreement on Sunday, but did not elaborate. Before the proposed deal is shared publicly, the nation will verify it in the coming weeks in the Festhalle – where wet`suwet`en hereditary rulers usually make important decisions – in accordance with anuk nu`at`en or Wet`suwet`en law. Naziel said the people should be able to discuss the proposed deal in a party hall. “They treated us inappropriately and did not adequately inform us of the procedures and processes that have taken place so far,” the statement said, adding that the agreement was only presented to them last week. Neither Bennett nor Fraser`s departments were available Tuesday for comment on the draft agreement or the allegations of elected officials. Hereditary chiefs also insist that they have not received and will not receive a signing bonus or financial compensation under the agreement. Maureen Luggi, elected leader of the Wet`suwet`en First Nation, attended one of the clan`s presentations. She confirmed that the content of the document reflects the information clan members received about the agreement, but warned that reunification would be a difficult issue. According to hereditary chiefs, this agreement, if ratified, would make the Wet`suwet`en the first Indigenous nation in Canada to be recognized as Indigenous title to their territory — which includes the right to decide on the use of those lands.
Both sides have set a 12-month schedule to work on the finest details, including areas of responsibility. These include the well-being of children and families, water, wildlife, fish, land and resources. However, the chiefs assure the elected leaders in their letter on Monday that all Wet`suwet`en members will be involved in future negotiations after the signing of the first agreement. “It`s like signing an agreement to buy a car and then negotiate the price,” said Chief Dan George of the Ts`il Kaz Koh First Nation, also known as the Burns Lake Band, which is one of five Wet`suwet`en First Nations that have signed contracts with Coastal GasLink. The hereditary chief will undoubtedly see this agreement as a precedent. They will insist on the same powers. And it risks undermining many other licensing agreements that elected band councils have signed with resource companies. There are so many potential landmines in this agreement that it is difficult to know where to start.
But let`s start with how it gives hereditary chiefs power over elected chiefs and their councils. In many cases, elected chiefs represent a new generation of Indigenous leaders.