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Victoria, March 4: An activist walks in front of the B.C. Legislature, where youth and supporters have camped in support of the Wet'suwet'en for more than two weeks.

David Tesinsky/The Globe and Mail

The latest

  • Herb Naziel of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, also known as Samooh, is now the first of the B.C. first nation’s hereditary house chiefs to support the Coastal GasLink pipeline project, saying it will improve Indigenous people’s standard of living. Mr. Naziel is a heavy-equipment operator for Kyah Resources Inc., which has a $55-million construction contract with Coastal GasLink.
  • Wet’suwet’en members are still evaluating a land-title deal reached between the hereditary chiefs and the federal and B.C. governments at the beginning of March. Overlapping territorial claims by the Wet’suwet’en Nation and neighbouring First Nations will complicate efforts to fast-track acknowledgement of title in northern B.C.
  • Rail blockades in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en chiefs appear to have largely subsided, after worrying Canadian business for weeks about broken supply chains and economic damage. The Globe and Mail’s Matthew McClearn analyzed freight traffic in February and found significant, but not unprecedented, impacts on shipping.
  • Opinions among Wet’suwet’en people vary widely about the risks and benefits of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which most hereditary chiefs oppose. The Globe travelled along the pipeline route to see how that debate is playing out. Here’s a more detailed primer on how Wet’suwet’en governance works and how the debate has inflamed old conflicts between the hereditary system and elected leadership authorized by the Indian Act.


The backstory in B.C.

Wet’suwet’en

territory

B.C.

ALTA.

Dawson

Creek

Planned

Coastal GasLink

pipeline

Vancouver

Victoria

U.S.

0

150

KM

WET'SUWET'EN CLANS

Gilseyhu (Big Frog)

Tsayu (Beaver clan)

Laksilyu (Small Frog)

Laksamshu (Fireweed)

Gitdumden (Wolf/Bear)

Planned

pipeline

Smithers

Houston

Kitimat

0

50

KM

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN;

OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; COASTAL

GASLINK; OFFICE OF THE WET’SUWET’EN

Wet’suwet’en

territory

B.C.

ALTA.

Dawson

Creek

Planned

Coastal GasLink

pipeline

Vancouver

Victoria

U.S.

0

150

KM

WET'SUWET'EN CLANS

Gilseyhu (Big Frog)

Laksilyu (Small Frog)

Gitdumden (Wolf/Bear)

Tsayu (Beaver clan)

Laksamshu (Fireweed)

Smithers

Houston

Kitimat

Planned

pipeline

0

50

KM

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP

CONTRIBUTORS; COASTAL GASLINK; OFFICE OF THE

WET’SUWET’EN

Wet’suwet’en

territory

B.C.

ALTA.

Dawson

Creek

Planned

Coastal GasLink

pipeline

Vancouver

0

150

Victoria

U.S.

KM

WET'SUWET'EN CLANS

Gilseyhu (Big Frog)

Laksilyu (Small Frog)

Gitdumden (Wolf/Bear)

Tsayu (Beaver clan)

Smithers

Laksamshu (Fireweed)

Houston

Kitimat

Planned

pipeline

0

50

KM

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS;

COASTAL GASLINK; OFFICE OF THE WET’SUWET’EN

In early 2019, a forestry road near Houston, B.C., was the scene of a tense standoff between RCMP and members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. At issue were Coastal GasLink’s plans to build a pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory, part of a $6.6-billion project to bring natural gas from northeastern B.C. to Kitimat on the coast. Five elected Wet’suwet’en band councils supported it, but hereditary chiefs remained opposed.

At two Wet’suwet’en camps, Unist’ot’en and Gitdumden (also spelled Gidimt’en), blockades obstructed Coastal GasLink’s path to build the pipeline. RCMP set up roadblocks and arrested people to enforce an injunction allowing workers to use the road. Days later, the threat of more conflict was averted by an agreement that the RCMP would leave Unist’ot’en’s healing lodge alone and allow the Wet’suwet’en to trap in the backcountry unimpeded.

Near Houston, B.C., Jan. 8, 2020: Supporters of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs cut trees to use for a canvas tent at the support camp on kilometre marker 40.

Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

In the year since then, Coastal GasLink cleared some land to make room for construction workers’ camps, but disputes over the pipeline and trapping rights continued to escalate. Coastal GasLink said staff found trees partly cut down on a road to Unist’ot’en. A Wet’suwet’en house group gave Coastal GasLink an eviction notice and cancelled the deal reached the year before. Eventually Coastal GasLink put construction on hold. In December, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that the anti-pipeline group had harmed Coastal GasLink’s interests, but talks with the B.C. government delayed the RCMP from enforcing the new injunction. On Feb. 5, talks broke down, and the RCMP soon moved in and made several arrests.

Story continues below advertisement

The standoff lasted for more than three weeks until nationwide blockades on railways and highways (more on that below) led to renewed negotiations involving the Wet’suwet’en chiefs, the federal Crown-Indigenous relations minister and her B.C. counterpart, which produced a tentative agreement on March 1.

John Borrows from the University of Victoria calls the Wet'suwet'en's deal with the B.C. and federal governments a precedent that could have positive implications for future negotiations with Indigenous people. Here's a primer on what it involves. The Globe and Mail

The blockades

For most of February, solidarity protests across Canada called for the RCMP and Coastal GasLink to fully withdraw from Wet’suwet’en territory. Protest sites included the ports of Vancouver and Halifax, public-transit rail lines in Vancouver and Montreal and Canada-U.S. border crossings in Ontario and B.C.

One of the biggest disruptions was in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in Ontario, where a blockade camp stood along the main rail link between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal for 19 days. Canadian National Railway Co. shut down its entire eastern network (while continuing to discreetly ship some goods with the co-operation of its rival, Canadian Pacific), and Via Rail suspended nearly all intercity rail travel in Canada and laid off 1,000 employees. After negotiations between the Tyendinaga and Ontario Provincial Police, the OPP moved in en masse on Feb. 24 and arrested several people. That triggered new rolling blockades from New Hazelton, B.C., to Montreal’s Mercier Bridge, and ground parts of Toronto’s GO Transit network to a halt during Feb. 25′s afternoon rush hour.

The disruptions began to subside once the Wet’suwet’en chiefs had a negotiation meeting scheduled with federal and B.C. ministers, though that meeting nearly got scuttled over the ministers’ demands that the Wet’suwet’en ask other First Nations to stop their blockades. The chiefs refused, saying they would not interfere in the affairs of other sovereign nations.

Vancouver, Feb. 24: A woman wears a bandana over her face as protesters march to block a road used to access the Port of Vancouver.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Toronto, Feb. 25: Commuters crowd Union Station during afternoon rush hour, when blockades on several GO Transit lines created a cascading slowdown at the city's main railway hub.

Yader Guzman

Hamilton, Feb. 25: Police look on as protesters camp on GO Transit railroad tracks.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Montreal, Feb. 25: Pro-Wet'suwet'en demonstrators carry banners through the streets reading 'no pipeline in Wet'suwet'en territory' and 'solidarity with Indigenous peoples' struggle.'

Christinne Muschi/Reuters

A Wet’suwet’en who’s who

John Ridsdale, also called Na'Moks, is one of the hereditary house chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en Nation.

Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

Who governs the Wet’suwet’en? The pipeline dispute hinges on an old question many First Nations face: Whether authority over resource development lies with elected band councils, hereditary leaders or both. Five elected Wet’suwet’en band councils, whose authority is coded in the federal Indian Act, signed agreements with Coastal GasLink, and 15 other B.C. elected band councils that accepted the pipeline. But the Wet’suwet’en Nation also has five hereditary clans, under which there are 13 houses, or subgroups. Each subgroup has the position of house chief, also known as head chief, and secondary leaders known as wing chiefs. Nine of 13 hereditary house-chief positions are filled, and four are vacant. Eight house chiefs have said they oppose Coastal GasLink, while the ninth supports it.

Who opposes the pipeline opponents? Two house chiefs supported the pipeline, only to have their titles stripped by other chiefs. Some wing chiefs have spoken out against the anti-pipeline house chiefs, including Rita George (who is both a part of the elected Wet’suwet’en First Nation and the hereditary system) and Gary Naziel, who says several hereditary chiefs and matriarchs have been bullied for criticizing the anti-pipeline chiefs.

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

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

Kweese

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

Kweese

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

The legal issues at stake

Land claims: The pipeline opponents’ case hinges on the 1997 Delgamuukw decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, which involved land claims by the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan people. It upheld Indigenous peoples’ rights to lands never ceded by treaty, but didn’t answer specific questions of title by the Wet’suwet’en or Gitxsan. The Wet’suwet’en’s proposed deal with the federal and B.C. governments supposedly resolves some of those questions, but details of the plan are not yet public.

Story continues below advertisement

Artifacts: The chiefs have also pinned their legal arguments on stone artifacts they say were unearthed at Camp 9A, a site on the construction route. B.C. government protocols require a perimeter around sites where heritage objects are found. There is no doubt that the artifacts are authentic, but legal action by Coastal GasLink has disputed whether they were really found there or planted to prevent construction. The Globe and Mail’s Brent Jang interviewed more than 20 people familiar with the case and examined court records to piece together the timeline of how the artifacts were found and the debate about what should happen to Camp 9A.

More reading

Opinion on reconciliation

Tanya Talaga: Reconciliation isn’t dead. It never truly existed

Pam Palmater: Clearing the lands has always been at the heart of Canada’s Indian policy

Andrew Coyne: On reconciliation, development and carbon pricing: Enough with the all-or-nothing rhetoric

Opinion on the rule of law

Beverly Jacobs: In sacred Tyendinaga, an affirmation of the spirit and significance of Haudenosaunee laws

Shiri Pasternak and Irina Ceric: Injunctions have only served to prove the point: Canada is a smash-and-grab country for industry

Adam Pankratz: The rule of law cuts both ways. Some Coastal GasLink protesters are ignoring that

Corey Shefman: Stop using the ‘rule of law’ as a weapon against Indigenous peoples

Globe and Mail reports in depth

In Wet’suwet’en territory, torn loyalties over the future of a nation and a pipeline

‘It’s the people who decide’: Who’s leading the pro-Wet’suwet’en blockades, and who’s not

Indigenous land rights: The big picture

Analysis: Outside of pipeline tensions, signs of reconciliation progress in B.C.

This pipeline is challenging Indigenous law and Western law. Who really owns the land?


Compiled by Globe staff

Based on reporting from Brent Jang, Justine Hunter, Wendy Stueck, Eric Atkins, Bill Curry, Karen Howlett, Les Perreaux, Colin Freeze and The Canadian Press


We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

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