Wet'suwet'en chiefs arrive in Six Nations for 'landmark discussions,' starting 18-day tour
The tour will see stops in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba
Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs weren't surrounded by the towering pine trees and snow-capped mountains found in northern B.C., but they still found a feeling of familiarity while standing outside a traditional longhouse on Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario on Tuesday.
The traditional chiefs met with Haudenosaunee Hereditary Chiefs to discuss common ground and spread awareness about their battle for land sovereignty back in B.C.
"We view these landmark discussions as not just discussions but real action-oriented, real logical starting points … toward something that's going to be working for all of us," said Hereditary Chief Woos of the Grizzly House with the Gidimt'en Clan in B.C. (who is also known as Frank Alec).
"We need to spread a message of peace and unity."
The visit to Six Nations of the Grand River is Day One of an 18-day trip that will stop in Indigenous communities near Sarnia (Aamjiwnaang First Nation), Montreal (Kahnawà:ke and Kanehsatà:ke) and Winnipeg, among others.
It was the first time in an estimated 35 years or so the Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs have come to Six Nations.
The trip's purpose is to build solidarity between Indigenous communities and raise awareness about shared concerns over land and the consent process.
The pipeline conflict
Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs are opposed to a natural gas pipeline under construction in northern British Columbia.
The proposed $6.6-billion, 670-kilometre pipeline will deliver natural gas from the Dawson Creek area in northern B.C., heading west near Vanderhoof to a liquefaction facility in Kitimat. It's part of a $40-billion LNG Canada project.
The province and all 20 elected First Nations councils along the route, including Wet'suwet'en elected council, approved the construction — but Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs said the project needed their consent too.
They said elected councils are responsible for only the territory within their individual reserves, which were created through the Indian Act.
But the hereditary chiefs say they are following Wet'suwet'en law that predates colonization and the Indian Act, meaning they assert authority over the broader 22,000 square kilometres of traditional territory that the pipeline would cross.
Protests and rail blockades across Canada, including one in Hamilton, took place in early 2020 in support of the hereditary chiefs.
In late June of this year, members of the Wet'suwet'en Nation sued the RCMP and Coastal GasLink for alleged harassment by police and private security.
In July, the Crown announced criminal contempt charges against 19 people including prominent Haudenosaunee activist Skyler Williams, who has made several trips from Six Nations to the western territory as an allied land defender.
'We're reconnecting' say Indigenous groups
Cayuga Snipe Chief Deyohowe:to (also known as Roger Silversmith) with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council said despite Chief Woos and others being half a country away, both nations are fighting different kinds of development that affect land sovereignty.
Six Nations saw 1492 Land Back Lane — the occupation of a housing development in nearby Caledonia, Ont., that resulted in the cancellation of the project in July.
"When the chiefs told me here back in their own territory they can still drink the water out of their streams...here we can't do that," Chief Deyohowe:to said.
"The people who can make this change, they're not doing it."
They all called on the federal government to listen to their concerns and act accordingly.
Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council secretary Hohahes Leroy Hill said he hopes the tour will lead to change.
"We're reconnecting and we're trying to find ways to support one another and speak with a united voice," he said.
The next stop on the Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs's tour is Aamjiwnaang First Nation, near Sarnia, Ont.
- An earlier version of this story said "some members of 'Wet'suwet'en Nation are occupying a Coastal GasLink construction site." Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs consider the land to be their traditional territories and we've updated the text to better reflect the different parties claiming rights to the land.Sep 23, 2022 2:33 PM ET
With files from CBC News