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Energy and Resources B.C. energy regulator dismisses claim of Indigenous artifacts on pipeline route

B.C.'s energy regulator has dismissed a complaint from protesters who assert that Coastal GasLink pipeline workers bulldozed their way through a culturally important Indigenous site, but hereditary chiefs have renewed efforts in court to fight further construction.

The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission said in a bulletin dated March 8 that it couldn’t find evidence to back up the Indigenous complaint alleging that a segment of Coastal GasLink’s natural gas pipeline route threatens an area that protesters said contains historical artifacts. Those assertions include the purported discovery of two stone tools said to be thousands of years old.

“The soils upon which the artifacts were found would not typically contain any such cultural artifacts and this was likely not their original location,” the commission said in its bulletin, responding to the complaint filed by the Unist’ot’en protest camp.

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Unist’ot’en is affiliated with Dark House, one of 13 Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary house groups, which in turn fall under five clans.

The two stone tools reported as being discovered “were not present” when the commission’s archeological experts visited the bulldozed site in the B.C. Interior, according to the bulletin.

The commission’s findings come as Dark House chief Warner William and other hereditary leaders continue their efforts in court to block TransCanada Corp.'s $6.2-billion Coastal GasLink project, saying pipeline officials failed to properly consult with them.

Mr. William, who also goes by the hereditary title Chief Knedebeas, said in an affidavit in B.C. Supreme Court that Coastal GasLink representatives have been “deeply disrespectful of our legal process and my authority.”

The 75-year-old retired logging supervisor made his arguments in documents filed in a court battle in which Coastal GasLink is seeking a permanent injunction to ensure pipeline workers aren’t blocked by protesters.

Pipeline officials suspended work on Feb. 14 on a portion of the route, pending the completion of the commission’s investigation into the Unist’ot’en complaint about the risk to a potential archeological site. Coastal GasLink plans to resume work within two weeks on the affected area, which includes the site for a planned work camp.

Mr. William argues that Coastal GasLink officials have not shown good faith in requesting to construct a section of the pipeline on Dark House’s unceded territory. “Without the chief’s permission, they have no right to enter the territory. That is our law,” he said in a recent affidavit. “So far as they were concerned, they didn’t really need my permission to go onto my territory."

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His comments underscore the hard-line views of a group of eight prominent hereditary chiefs opposing Coastal GasLink.

The pipeline project has sown deep divisions within the Wet’suwet’en Nation. The hereditary chiefs insist they control the territory outside reserves and want to halt the pipeline’s construction, pitting them against elected band councillors on reserves who support the route. Coastal GasLink has been approved by all 20 elected First Nation councils along the route.

Three Wet’suwet’en women who support Coastal GasLink say male chiefs overstepped their bounds when they stripped away the women’s hereditary titles. The three women − including two former house chiefs and a former high-ranking hereditary chief − founded the Wet’suwet’en Matrilineal Coalition in 2015, hoping the group would help bridge the wide gap between elected band councillors and hereditary chiefs.

Four of the 13 house groups have vacancies for head chiefs. Eight of the nine male house chiefs are seeking to block Coastal GasLink. One chief has taken a neutral position.

The 670-kilometre pipeline would transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to Kitimat on the West Coast, where Royal Dutch Shell PLC-led LNG Canada has started building an $18-billion terminal that will export liquefied natural gas to Asia. An estimated 28 per cent of the B.C. pipeline route would cross into the Wet’suwet’en’s traditional territory.

Claire Marshall, who has consulted for TransCanada since 2012, said in an affidavit that pipeline representatives reached out repeatedly to hereditary leaders and made special efforts to deal separately with Dark House.

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WET’SUWET’EN NATION

The Wet'suwet'en Nation comprises five clans

and 13 house groups in the British Columbia

Interior. A non-profit society, the Office of the

Wet’suwet’en, represents the interests of

hereditary chiefs in the area.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs

GIL_SEYHU

Clan name

(Big Frog Clan)

Hereditary

title

Goohlaht

Yex T’sa wit’ant’

House name

(Thin House)

Knedebeas

Unist’ot’en

is affiliated

with

Dark House

Yex T’sa wil_

k’us

(Dark House)

Samooh

Kayex

(Birchbark House)

GITDUMDEN

LAKSILYU

(Small Frog Clan)

(Wolf and Bear Clan)

Wah Tah Kwets

Woos

Kwen Beegh Yex

Cassyex

(House Beside the Fire)

(Grizzly House)

Hagwilnegh

Gisday’wa

G’en egh l_a yex

Kaiyexweniits

(House of Many Eyes)

(House in the Middle

of Many)

Wah Tah K’eght

Tsee K’al K’e yex

Madeek

(House on a Flat Rock)

Anaskaski

(Where it Lies

Blocking the Trail)

TSAYU

LAKSAMSHU

(Beaver Clan)

(Fireweed and Owl Clan)

Kloum Khun

Kweese

Medzeyex

Djakanyex

(Beaver House)

(Owl House)

Namox

Smogelgem

Tsa K’en yex

Tsaiyex

(Rafters on

Beaver House)

(Sun House)

Note: In this version of the chart, the order of the

clans has been stacked due to space considerations.

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: wetsuweten.com

WET’SUWET’EN NATION

The Wet'suwet'en Nation comprises five clans and 13

house groups in the British Columbia Interior.

A non-profit society, the Office of the Wet’suwet’en,

represents the interests of hereditary chiefs in the area.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs

GIL_SEYHU

Clan name

(Big Frog Clan)

Hereditary

title

Goohlaht

Yex T’sa wit’ant’

House name

(Thin House)

Knedebeas

Unist’ot’en

is affiliated

with

Dark House

Yex T’sa wil_

k’us

(Dark House)

Samooh

Kayex

(Birchbark House)

LAKSILYU

GITDUMDEN

(Small Frog Clan)

(Wolf and Bear Clan)

Wah Tah Kwets

Woos

Kwen Beegh Yex

Cassyex

(House Beside the Fire)

(Grizzly House)

Hagwilnegh

Gisday’wa

G’en egh l_a yex

Kaiyexweniits

(House of Many Eyes)

(House in the Middle

of Many)

Wah Tah K’eght

Tsee K’al K’e yex

Madeek

(House on a Flat Rock)

Anaskaski

(Where it Lies

Blocking the Trail)

TSAYU

LAKSAMSHU

(Beaver Clan)

(Fireweed and Owl Clan)

Kloum Khun

Kweese

Medzeyex

Djakanyex

(Beaver House)

(Owl House)

Namox

Smogelgem

Tsa K’en yex

Tsaiyex

(Rafters on

Beaver House)

(Sun House)

Note: In this version of the chart, the order of the

clans has been stacked due to space considerations.

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: wetsuweten.com

WET’SUWET’EN NATION

The Wet'suwet'en Nation comprises five clans and 13 house groups in the British

Columbia Interior. A non-profit society, the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, represents

the interests of hereditary chiefs in the area.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs

GILSEYHU

LAKSILYU

GITDUMDEN

Clan name

(Big Frog Clan)

(Small Frog Clan)

(Wolf and Bear Clan)

Hereditary

title

Goohlaht

Wah Tah Kwets

Woos

Yex T’sa wit’ant’

Kwen Beegh Yex

Cassyex

House name

(Thin House)

(House Beside the Fire)

(Grizzly House)

Knedebeas

Unist’ot’en

is affiliated

with

Dark House

Hagwilnegh

Gisday’wa

Yex T’sa wil_

k’us

G’en egh l_a yex

Kaiyexweniits

(House of Many Eyes)

(House in the

Middle of Many)

(Dark House)

Wah Tah K’eght

Samooh

Madeek

Tsee K’al K’e yex

Kayex

Anaskaski

(House on a Flat Rock)

(Birchbark House)

(Where it Lies

Blocking the Trail)

TSAYU

LAKSAMSHU

(Beaver Clan)

(Fireweed and Owl Clan)

Kloum Khun

Kweese

Note: In this

version of

the chart, the

order of the

clans has been

stacked due to

space consider-

ations.

Medzeyex

Djakanyex

(Beaver House)

(Owl House)

Na’Moks

Smogelgem

Tsa K’en yex

Tsaiyex

(Rafters on

Beaver House)

(Sun House)

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: wetsuweten.com

But Mr. William defends the hereditary system, arguing that the head chiefs of the house groups have the right to make decisions in their respective territories. “Head chiefs are not dictators,” he said, noting that he consults with his wing chiefs (sub-chiefs) on important issues. “I have the ultimate decision-making power.”

Mr. William is also an elected councillor of the Witset band, where a majority of councillors voted to support Coastal GasLink. Witset is one of the five elected band councils along the pipeline route that belong to the Wet’suwet’en Nation and back the project.

Coastal GasLink names two defendants − Freda Huson, 54, and Warner Naziel, 50 − in the company’s quest for a permanent court injunction. The pipeline company alleges that Ms. Huson (a Dark House spokeswoman) and Mr. Naziel (also known as Smogelgem, who is the head chief of Sun House) are the architects behind the Unist’ot’en protest camp and blockade.

On Jan. 7, RCMP arrested 14 protesters at a police checkpoint along a remote B.C. logging road that leads to the Unist’ot’en camp. Four days later, the blockade on the Morice River bridge came down.

An interim injunction granted by the court in December will expire in May. A court hearing will be held before that expiration.

Ms. Huson, who is Mr. William’s niece, lived at the Unist’ot’en protest camp for nine years with her common-law spouse, Mr. Naziel. The couple separated in January.

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Mr. Naziel said he first laid claim in 2016 to the Smogelgem title to make him head chief of Sun House. But Gloria George, a Wet’suwet’en elder who supports Coastal GasLink, said in a recent interview with The Globe and Mail that the title and position were unfairly stripped away from her.

Ms. George and two other Wet’suwet’en women, Darlene Glaim and Theresa Tait-Day, say male chiefs overstepped their bounds in removing the hereditary titles from them. Ms. Glaim previously served as head chief Woos under Grizzly House and Ms. Tait-Day had the hereditary title Wi’hali’yte. Frank Alec took over the title of Woos at a ceremony in Witset on March 2.

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