British Columbia

Stop work on Coastal GasLink to allow meaningful dialogue on B.C. pipeline project, says Indigenous leader

Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, is calling for a three to six month moratorium to encourage honest dialogue between government and Indigenous leaders.

Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs say they will not meet unless the company and RCMP leave their territory

Native leaders are requesting work on the pipeline near Houston, B.C., stop for three to six months, so government leaders and hereditary chiefs can come to the table and have meaningful dialogue. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

A B.C. Indigenous leader says the prime minister needs to immediately come to the table with Indigenous leaders who oppose the construction of a pipeline in northern B.C. and the project should be halted while conversations take place.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline, which is opposed by the hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en Nation, has mobilized both Indigenous and non-Indigenous protesters across the country to blockade ports, railways and roads in solidarity.

"People are at the end of their rope," said Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, Wednesday on The Early Edition.

"The government hasn't bothered to take First Nations very seriously on these issues. People across the country are acting out on this," she added.

Sayers said the situation has become a national crisis and it is critical that Ottawa and Indigenous leaders come together now.

She suggested a three to six month moratorium on pipeline construction while conversations take place.

A Wet’suwet’en supporter blocks an intersection in Vancouver on Feb. 10. (CBC/Maggie MacPherson)

In the House of Commons Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Canadians to be patient with his government. 

"Finding a solution will not be simple. It will take determination, hard work and co-operation," Trudeau said. "We are creating a space for peaceful honest dialogue with willing partners ... We need Canadians to show both resolve and collaboration. Everyone has a stake in getting this right."

Sayers said the prime minister's words are not enough.

"He could take time out of his busy schedule to begin the conversations," she said. "He's making space, but there is not a lot more of a commitment than that."

A battle between the hereditary chiefs of a B.C. First Nation and a company planning to build a natural gas pipeline has mobilized people across the country to show their support for the chiefs by blocking ports, railways and city intersections. (Farrah Merali/CBC)

Former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh said he does not support stopping work on the pipeline.

"It establishes a precedent that you can bring the whole country to its knees and then have a moratorium. I think that's a problem for a civilized society." said Dosanjh.

He said if a moratorium is put on the project it could encourage other groups to erect blockades over future issues that do not concern First Nations.

"Forget these issues, imagine other issues," said Dosanjh. "If other Canadians begin to do the same thing, are we going to accept it?"

On Wednesday, Trudeau reiterated to reporters on Parliament Hill his government is working hard to resolve the Indigenous blockades that have led to hundreds of layoffs at CN Rail. The prime minister has said his government is committed to using dialogue instead of force.

Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs have said they will not meet with Ottawa or Victoria unless the RCMP and Coastal GasLink leave their territory.

With files from The Early Edition, John Paul Tasker