Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs have rejected the latest request from Coastal GasLink to meet, saying they are unwavering in their decision to refuse workers access to construction sites for a section of the $6.6-billion pipeline project in northern British Columbia.
“We will never change our stand on this proposed pipeline,” John Ridsdale, who also goes by the hereditary name Na’Moks, said in an interview on Monday. “They’ve been ramming it down our throats and just bulldozing through.”
He said eight Wet’suwet’en hereditary house chiefs who oppose the natural gas pipeline are united in turning down the request to meet with officials from Coastal GasLink.
Mr. Ridsdale is chief of Rafters on Beaver House, one of 13 hereditary house groups. One house chief has taken a neutral view on the pipeline project and four positions are vacant.
All 20 elected First Nation councils along the route support the project, including five elected Wet’suwet’en band councils. But Wet’suwet’en hereditary house groups claim authority over their unceded traditional territory located outside federal reserves.
The BC Environmental Assessment Office approved the project in 2014, and preliminary construction work began in early 2019 on the 670-kilometre pipeline route from northeastern B.C. to the West Coast.
“Coastal GasLink has no business trying to talk to us at this late date,” Mr. Ridsdale said. “We have no intent on allowing this to go through.”
B.C. Premier John Horgan announced on Monday that he has appointed former NDP MP Nathan Cullen as a liaison between the B.C. government and the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, which is governed by hereditary chiefs.
Some hereditary leaders already met last week with Mr. Cullen on his fact-finding mission. “He was our Member of Parliament in Ottawa for 15 years. Of all the politicians and former politicians, he would be our top pick,” said Mr. Ridsdale, who reiterated that the ultimate goal is to meet directly with Mr. Horgan.
Mr. Ridsdale made the comments shortly after Coastal GasLink president David Pfeiffer said during a conference call with media that the pipeline project hopes that Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders would agree to meet.
“For the past year, Coastal GasLink has attempted to engage with the opposed hereditary chiefs to find a peaceful solution that would secure access over the long term,” Mr. Pfeiffer said.
He said Coastal GasLink prefers to avoid having RCMP enforce a court injunction against protesters, and he hopes it will be possible to soon remove a blockade of dozens of trees on a remote logging road that leads to a work camp for the final 84-kilometre stretch of the pipeline across the Coast Mountains.
Hereditary leaders approved the strategy of starting a new blockade in early January, with a series of fallen trees blocking Coastal GasLink construction workers from returning to work on a section of the pipeline project.
“We spent many years assessing multiple routes through the Wet’suwet’en territory,” Mr. Pfeiffer said. “The current route was selected as the most technically viable with the least environmental impact.”
Coastal GasLink is seeking to complete the line by late 2023 and conduct tests in 2024 to send natural gas to the LNG Canada terminal in Kitimat on the B.C. coast. Royal Dutch Shell PLC leads the LNG Canada consortium, which hopes to begin exports of liquefied natural gas to Asia in 2025.
In its quest to obtain an injunction against protesters, Coastal GasLink launched its court case against two defendants in November, 2018. Lawyers for the pipeline project argue that defendants Freda Huson and Warner Naziel are the architects behind the Unist’ot’en protest camp near the Morice River Bridge. Unist’ot’en is affiliated with Dark House, one of the 13 hereditary house groups.
Claire Marshall, who consulted for Coastal GasLink from 2012 to early 2019, said in an affidavit that pipeline representatives reached out repeatedly to hereditary leaders. She said the outreach included attending more than 120 meetings with Office of the Wet’suwet’en staff and various chiefs, as well as exchanging at least 1,300 phone calls and e-mails with them over the years.
Ms. Marshall said Coastal GasLink has been thwarted in attempts to consult since 2013 with Warner William, chief of Dark House. She also said the pipeline project has been stymied since 2014 to negotiate with Ms. Huson, including contacting her 40 times and requesting to meet with her seven times to no avail.
Meanwhile, four First Nations in northern British Columbia said on Monday that they support LNG exports. The elected leaders of the Haisla, Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla and Nisga’a signed a memorandum of understanding in October to collaborate on balancing their desire for economic growth with backing climate action.
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