B.C., Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs begin new reconciliation process

A joint statement Thursday said that the government and the Office of the Wet'suwet'en are undertaking a process focused on Wet'suwet'en title, rights, laws and traditional governance throughout their territory.

Joint statement says commitment to lasting reconciliation not connected to any specific project

Hereditary Chief NaMoks, standing alongside fellow chiefs, speaks to media following their meeting with RCMP members and Coastal GasLink representatives on Jan. 10. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

B.C. says it's starting a new reconciliation process with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, who are at the centre of opposition to a natural gas pipeline in northern B.C.

A joint statement Thursday said that the government and the Office of the Wet'suwet'en are undertaking a process focused on Wet'suwet'en title, rights, laws and traditional governance throughout their territory.

The statement said B.C. has appointed Victoria MP and lawyer Murray Rankin as its representative to help guide and design the process, adding that Rankin has an understanding of the Supreme Court's Delgamuukw decision, which helped define Indigenous title.

It said the province and the Wet'suwet'en are committed to explore a path forward together that seeks to build trust over time and meaningfully advance reconciliation.

The Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs oppose Coastal GasLink's plans to build a pipeline from northeastern B.C. to LNG Canada's export terminal in Kitimat. RCMP arrested 14 people at a blockade last month before reaching a deal with the chiefs.

RCMP enforce an injunction in Wet'suwet'en territory at a blockade protesting the Coastal GasLink LNG pipeline. (CBC)

The province said its commitment to lasting reconciliation is not connected to any specific project, and the new process will build on discussions that have been ongoing since Premier John Horgan and Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser visited the territory in August.

"We all recognize that the path forward will involve challenges. It will take a willingness to innovate and take bold steps together,'' the province said.

"This engagement is a historic opportunity to advance Wet'suwet'en self-determination and self-governance, and for the province and Wet'suwet'en Nation to establish a deeper relationship based on respect and recognition of rights.''

Hereditary Chief Ronnie West, centre, from the Lake Babine First Nation, sings and beats a drum during a solidarity march after Indigenous nations and supporters gathered to show support for the Wet'suwet'en Nation in Smithers on Jan. 16. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)