British Columbia

Horgan offers to send minister for meeting with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs

Premier John Horgan still hasn't agreed to meet with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in person, but in a letter faxed on Monday, Horgan offered to send Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation for a meeting on Wednesday.

Premier John Horgan's declined to meet with hereditary chiefs while in region touring LNG facility

A notice from RCMP to clear the road sits in a tree felled across it, blocking access to a Gidimt'en checkpoint near Houston B.C., on Wednesday January 8, 2020. The Wet'suwet'en peoples are occupying their land and trying to prevent the Coastal GasLink pipeline from going through it. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Premier John Horgan still hasn't agreed to meet with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in person, but on Monday he sent a letter to Chief Nam'oks, a spokesperson for the hereditary clan chiefs who also goes by John Ridsdale, suggesting a meeting with a representative of the B.C. government.

On Friday Horgan was near Wet'suwet'en territory when he paid a visit to an LNG facility in Kitimat, and was asked by the chiefs for a face-to-face discussion while in the area. He offered to meet by phone instead, telling CBC he wasn't going to "drop everything I'm doing to come running when someone is saying they need to speak with me."

The hereditary chiefs are leaders in the Indigenous opposition to Coastal GasLink project within their unceded territory. 

Coastal GasLink is building the 670-kilometre pipeline from British Columbia's northeast to Kitimat on the coast.

The company has signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nation councils along its path, but the hereditary clan chiefs, who are leaders under the traditional form of governance, say the project has no authority without their consent.

Hereditary Chief Nam'oks of the Wet'suwet'en Nation says it is hereditary leadership that resource companies should consult when they are pursuing benefit agreements with the Wet'suwet'en people on their land. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

The B.C. Supreme Court has granted an injunction against supporters of the hereditary chiefs who have set up camps close to a pipeline work site near Smithers. It authorizes RCMP to arrest and remove anyone contravening the order.

In a letter addressed to Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Jan. 10, Nam'oks asked to meet.

"We formally request a meeting with you to discuss the impacts of the recent interlocutory injunction and RCMP enforcement," the letter read, adding that ministers who have decision-making authority in relation to the project were also invited.

In a letter faxed and emailed on Monday, Horgan offered to send Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation for a meeting on Wednesday in Smithers.

John Horgan poses for a selfie while on a tour of LNG Canada in Northern B.C. on Friday Jan. 17, 2020. (John Horgan/Twitter)

"I regret we were not able to speak by telephone last week as I proposed," wrote Horgan.

"If you're going to have decent communication with anybody, it's best to be looking eye-to-eye," Nam'oks has previously said. "We want to show the respect back, too."

Horgan said in his letter that the B.C. government has no authority to alter the injunction order issued by the court, nor to direct the RCMP in its role of enforcing the order.

"I remain committed to dialogue to achieve a peaceful and safe resolution of this issue," said Horgan, adding that he was honoured to visit Wet'suwet'en at Nam'oks' request last year, a trip that was "carefully planned and months in preparation."

About the Author

Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at cbc.ca/bc.

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