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Wet'suwet'en Nation hereditary chiefs at a support rally in Smithers, B.C., on Jan. 10, 2020.

Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs say they now have the backing of their clans to endorse a proposed deal for expediting talks to implement rights and title over their traditional territory in British Columbia.

On Feb. 29, hereditary leaders reached a proposed memorandum of understanding with the B.C. and federal governments on the issue of the Wet’suwet’en’s traditional territory. A resolution to the Wet’suwet’en’s dispute with the Coastal GasLink project, however, was not reached back then and remains unresolved.

Coastal GasLink would transport natural gas from northeastern B.C. to LNG Canada’s $18-billion export terminal under construction in Kitimat on the coast.

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“We welcome the confirmation that the Wet’suwet’en clans have completed their review of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) we reached together on Feb. 29, 2020, to affirm and implement Wet’suwet’en title and rights and have given their support to sign it,“ the B.C. and federal governments said in a joint statement issued late on Thursday with hereditary chiefs. “We look forward to advancing this important work to implement Wet’suwet’en rights and title as three equal governments.”

Hereditary chiefs held three days of meetings in late February in Smithers, B.C., with federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Scott Fraser, B.C.’s Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

Wet’suwet’en leaders have invited Ms. Bennett and Mr. Fraser to sign the MOU on May 14. “This time allows all three governments to organize a virtual meeting to sign,” according to the joint statement.

“Given the recommendations from the provincial health officer and the First Nations Health Authority to continue physical distancing measures and avoid non-essential travel, we are working out the details for the next steps, including signing the MOU and sharing it publicly."

In February, protests and blockades spread across Canada in support of a group of eight Wet’suwet’en hereditary house chiefs who oppose Coastal GasLink’s plan to build a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia.

The pipeline dispute lingers, with five elected band councils within the Wet’suwet’en Nation backing Coastal GasLink. Some elected councillors have complained that they have been left out of the decision-making process for discussing rights and title.

Thursday’s joint statement said many details must be worked out related to Indigenous governance.

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“There is a great deal of work ahead of us in the negotiation process agreed to in the MOU, to lay out how we will implement rights and title and how our three governments will work together into the future,” it said. “As negotiations proceed on the affirmation and implementation of Wet’suwet’en rights and title, we will move forward with transparency and openness, and will be further engaging with Wet’suwet’en house groups, neighbouring Nations, local governments, stakeholders and the public.”

The Wet’suwet’en’s hereditary system comprises 13 house groups, which in turn fall under five clans. The group of eight Wet’suwet’en house chiefs has led a vocal campaign against the pipeline’s construction, saying hereditary leaders, not elected band councillors, have jurisdiction over their traditional territory located outside of federal reserves.

All eight house chiefs who oppose Coastal GasLink attended the meetings in Smithers. One house chief supports the pipeline project while there are four vacancies for house chiefs.

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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