Skip to main content

Report on Business Wet’suwet’en chiefs remove hereditary titles of three women who support Coastal GasLink pipeline

Four of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who supported stripping the hereditary titles of three women who support the pipeline stand together during a news conference at the Gitdumden checkpoint near Houston, B.C., on Dec. 18, 2018. From left to right, the men pictured are: John Ridsdale (Na'Moks), Jeff Brown (Madeek), Fred Tom (Gisday'wa) and Alphonse Gagnon (Kloum Khun).

AMBER BRACKEN/The New York Times News Service

Wet’suwet’en Nation chiefs who oppose the $6.2-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline route in British Columbia stripped hereditary titles away from three Indigenous women who support the project.

The women formed the Wet’suwet’en Matrilineal Coalition (WMC) in August, 2015, hoping the fledgling group would address the need for a collective decision-making body. Internal strife within the Wet’suwet’en Nation has grown in recent years, with conflict between hereditary chiefs administering their unceded territories (passed down through oral traditions) versus elected band councillors on reserves (codified by federal law). It has placed a spotlight on the challenges faced by resource companies and governments when pursuing energy megaprojects in British Columbia.

The women say they have been ostracized behind the scenes since forming WMC and want to bring their case into the public light.

Story continues below advertisement

WMC incorporated as a not-for-profit group, with Gloria George, Darlene Glaim and Theresa Tait-Day serving as the original directors.

The three Indigenous women say they launched WMC in an effort to encourage Wet’suwet’en members to make informed decisions about contentious issues such as TransCanada Corp.'s Coastal GasLink. They say they tried unsuccessfully to persuade the male hereditary leaders to sign a benefits agreement with the natural-gas pipeline project.

The existence of WMC is a sign of a deeply divided nation, underscoring the complexity of the situation, according to Claire Marshall, a consultant retained by Coastal GasLink since 2012. Hereditary chiefs say non-Indigenous opposition from environmentalists to Hollywood celebrities is mounting against plans for the 670-kilometre route from northeast British Columbia to Kitimat on the West Coast.

The Office of the Wet’suwet’en, based in Smithers, B.C., is the umbrella organization that represents hereditary house groups.

Two of the Indigenous women were Wet’suwet’en house chiefs: Ms. George held the hereditary title Smogelgem under Sun House of the Laksamshu clan, while Ms. Glaim served as Woos under Grizzly House of the Gitdumden (also spelled Gidimt’en) clan.

“We established the matrilineal coalition, and the reason for that was to try to bring economic benefits to our young people,” Ms. George said.

Ms. Tait-Day held the hereditary position Wi’hali’yte, a spiritual name that means “far seer,” under House Beside The Fire of the Laksilyu clan.

Story continues below advertisement

The pipeline project has been approved by all 20 elected First Nation councils along the route, including five elected band councils that belong to the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

But five prominent Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have led a campaign to oppose the pipeline and they accuse WMC of being biased because Coastal GasLink and the previous BC Liberal government each provided $30,000 in funding in 2017 to the group. Coastal GasLink has tried to bypass and undermine the authority of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, according to supporters of the Unist’ot’en protest camp. Unist’ot’en is affiliated with Dark House, one of 13 Wet’suwet’en hereditary house groups.

On the Wet’suwet’en’s unceded territory, the Unist’ot’en camp’s blockade had prevented Coastal GasLink workers from crossing the Morice River bridge in the B.C. Interior. The blockade on the bridge came down on Jan. 11, four days after the RCMP arrested 14 protesters at a police checkpoint along a remote B.C. logging road that leads to the Unist’ot’en camp.

The gate of entry to the Unist'ot'en camp near Houston, B.C., on Dec. 17, 2018.

AMBER BRACKEN/The New York Times News Service

Ms. George, Ms. Glaim and Ms. Tait-Day said in recent interviews with The Globe and Mail that the male hereditary chiefs have unfairly removed the Indigenous titles from them.

They have felt the repercussions of losing their titles, with WMC being excluded from important meetings. The previous BC Liberal government recognized the three women’s hereditary roles as recently as the spring of 2017. In May, 2018, the BC NDP government’s Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser met with Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders, but the gathering did not include the three women.

The pipeline is scheduled to be completed in late 2023. Royal Dutch Shell PLC-led LNG Canada has started construction on its $18-billion terminal in Kitimat, with the facility slated to start exporting liquefied natural gas to Asia by early 2025.

The Unist’ot’en camp has been endorsed by five prominent Wet’suwet’en house chiefs, part of a hereditary system of 13 house groups that fall under five clans. The five men (with their Indigenous title, followed by their house group and clan) are: John Ridsdale (Na’Moks) from Rafters on Beaver House under the Tsayu clan; Warner William (Knedebeas) from Dark House under the Gilseyhu clan; Jeff Brown (Madeek) from Where it Lies Blocking the Trail under the Gitdumden clan; Ron Mitchell (Hagwilnegh) from House of Many Eyes under the Laksilyu clan; and Warner Naziel (Smogelgem) from Sun House under the Laksamshu clan.

Mr. Naziel took over the Smogelgem title from Ms. George.

“Our matrilineal coalition tried to have talks with these guys. We cannot have the guys making decisions about our nation without proper engagement," Ms. Tait-Day said. "Every one of us women inherited our names through our family.”

Ms. Glaim temporarily stepped down from WMC in 2017, citing “turmoil” within the Wet’suwet’en Nation, before rejoining the coalition. “Our system is broken," Ms. Glaim said. "Our hereditary and elected band council systems don’t have a way to come together to agree or disagree. We don’t have unity and we’re a split nation, and that’s the sad part.”

Michael Lee Ross, a lawyer who represents two of the Unist’ot’en supporters, criticized the matrilineal coalition in a recent filing in B.C. Supreme Court. “WMC includes individuals who have improperly represented themselves as hereditary chiefs and who in consequence have been reprimanded and ordered to stop using a hereditary chiefly title or formally stripped of the claimed chiefly title,” said Mr. Ross, who represents Mr. Naziel and his spouse, Freda Huson.

Mr. Ross made his arguments in documents dated Feb. 20, filed in response to Coastal GasLink’s application for an interim court injunction to dismantle the Unist’ot’en blockade. Coastal GasLink names Mr. Naziel and Ms. Huson as defendants in the court case. Ms. Huson is a spokeswoman for the Unist’ot’en camp and Dark House, and also serves as an elected Witset councillor.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. William, the Dark House chief, is also a long-time elected councillor with the Witset band, where a majority of councillors voted to support Coastal GasLink. “Coastal GasLink has attempted to subvert the authority of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, including Knedebeas of Dark House specifically,” Mr. Ross said. “By funding and engaging with the WMC, Coastal GasLink has attempted to side-step Dark House, the Office of the Wet’suwet’en and Wet’suwet’en legal process."

Mr. Ridsdale, the Rafters on Beaver House chief, said protests and other strategies to combat Coastal GasLink will create uncertainty and delay pipeline construction. “We are Wet’suwet’en. We are the highest authority on our territory,” he said. “The world is watching.”

Adam Gagnon, a wing chief (sub-chief) of the Laksamshu clan, said Ms. George, Ms. Glaim and Ms. Tait-Day were justifiably stripped of their “tainted” titles, describing them as “self-proclaimed hereditary chiefs" who didn’t follow protocols to obtain their Indigenous names in the first place.

“It’s way more complicated. In our culture, the way my mother explained it to me, any woman who goes after a high chief’s name is a very greedy woman,” Mr. Gagnon said.

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

Kwees

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

Kwees

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

Kwees

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

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

LAKSILYU

TSAYU

LAKSAMSHU

GITDUMDEN

GILSEYHU

Clan name

(Big Frog Clan)

(Small Frog Clan)

(Beaver Clan)

(Fireweed and Owl Clan)

(Wolf and Bear Clan)

Hereditary

title

Kloum Khun

Goohlaht

Wah Tah Kwets

Kwees

Woos

Yex T’sa wit’ant’

Kwen Beegh Yex

Djakanyex

Cassyex

Medzeyex

House name

(Thin House)

(House Beside the Fire)

(Grizzly House)

(Beaver House)

(Owl House)

Knedebeas

Unist’ot’en

is affiliated

with

Dark House

Hagwilnegh

Na’Moks

Smogelgem

Gisday’wa

Yex T’sa wil_

k’us

G’en egh l_a yex

Tsa K’en yex

Kaiyexweniits

Tsaiyex

(House of Many Eyes)

(Rafters on

Beaver House)

(Sun House)

(House in the Middle

of Many)

(Dark House)

Wah Tah K’eght

Samooh

Tsee K’al K’e yex

Kayex

Madeek

(House on a Flat Rock)

(Birchbark House)

Anaskaski

(Where it Lies Blocking

the Trail)

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

WET’SUWET’EN NATION

Unist’ot’en is affiliated with Dark House, one of 13 hereditary house groups under the Wet’suwet’en Nation in British Columbia’s

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

LAKSILYU

TSAYU

LAKSAMSHU

GITDUMDEN

GILSEYHU

Clan name

(Big Frog Clan)

(Small Frog Clan)

(Beaver Clan)

(Fireweed and Owl Clan)

(Wolf and Bear Clan)

Hereditary

title

Kloum Khun

Goohlaht

Wah Tah Kwets

Kwees

Woos

Yex T’sa wit’ant’

Kwen Beegh Yex

Djakanyex

Cassyex

Medzeyex

House name

(Thin House)

(House Beside the Fire)

(Grizzly House)

(Beaver House)

(Owl House)

Knedebeas

Unist’ot’en

is affiliated

with

Dark House

Hagwilnegh

Na’Moks

Smogelgem

Gisday’wa

Yex T’sa wil_

k’us

G’en egh l_a yex

Tsa K’en yex

Tsaiyex

Kaiyexweniits

(House of Many Eyes)

(Rafters on

Beaver House)

(Sun House)

(House in the Middle

of Many)

(Dark House)

Wah Tah K’eght

Samooh

Tsee K’al K’e yex

Kayex

Madeek

(Birchbark House)

(House on a Flat Rock)

Anaskaski

(Where it Lies Blocking

the Trail)

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

Dawson

Creek

ALASKA

Site of protests near Morice River

Houston

Kitimat

ALTA.

Prince

George

16

BRITISH

COLUMBIA

Banks

Island

97

Unist’ot’en

Camp

0

80

KM

Morice River

Kamloops

Morice River

Bridge

Coastal GasLink’s

pipeline project

Morice R. Forest Service Rd.

TransCanada’s

existing gas

transmission

system

0

1

KM

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

source: b.c. rcmp; thetyee.ca

Dawson

Creek

ALASKA

Site of protests near Morice River

Houston

ALTA.

Kitimat

Prince

George

16

BRITISH

COLUMBIA

Banks

Island

97

Unist’ot’en

Camp

0

80

KM

Morice River

Kamloops

Morice River

Bridge

Coastal GasLink’s

pipeline project

Morice River Forest Service Rd.

TransCanada’s

existing gas

transmission

system

0

1

KM

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, source: b.c. rcmp;

thetyee.ca

Dawson

Creek

ALASKA

Site of protests near Morice River

Houston

ALTA.

Kitimat

Prince

George

Haida

Gwaii

16

BRITISH

COLUMBIA

Banks

Island

97

Unist’ot’en

Camp

0

80

KM

Morice River

Kamloops

Morice River

Bridge

Coastal GasLink’s

pipeline project

Morice River Forest Service Rd.

TransCanada’s

existing gas

transmission

system

0

1

KM

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, source: b.c. rcmp; thetyee.ca

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Discussion loading ...