Politics

Wet'suwet'en chiefs' planned meeting with Mohawk protesters could delay efforts to end rail crisis

A trip east by four Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs to meet and thank the Mohawks of Tyendinaga behind a rail blockade in Ontario has thrown into doubt the timing of proposed talks with Ottawa and Victoria to settle the rail crisis.

The meeting could affect the timing of talks with federal, provincial ministers to settle the crisis

A protester stands between Mohawk Warrior Society flags at a rail blockade in Tyendinaga, near Belleville, Ont. on Sunday. The protest is in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposed to the LNG pipeline in northern British Columbia. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

A trip east by four Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs to meet and thank the Mohawks of Tyendinaga behind a rail blockade in Ontario has thrown into doubt the timing of proposed talks with Ottawa and Victoria to settle the rail crisis.

The four Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs left B.C for Ontario Wednesday and there are plans for them to meet with the Mohawks of Tyendianga as early as tomorrow.

Hereditary Chief Na'moks told CBC News they will be landing in Montreal and stopping first in Kahnawake, a Mohawk community south of the city, before moving to Tyendinaga.

"It is only to thank them for their support, no more than that," Hereditary Chief Na'moks told Radio-Canada in an email.

In a separate interview, Na'moks also told CBC that he is not travelling with the four chiefs who are expected to land in Montreal this evening.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tasked Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett with leading the federal side of planned talks with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs. B.C. Premier John Horgan is sending Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser to take part in the talks.

The goal of the talks is to resolve a dispute with the Wet'suwet'en chiefs over the $6 billion Coastal GasLink pipeline project and to de-escalate tensions that have led to rail blockades in several key parts of the country following an RCMP raid on Wet'suwet'en territory on Feb. 6.

But the hereditary chiefs have said they won't meet with the federal and provincial ministers until the RCMP leave their territory. And with some hereditary chiefs now heading east to meet with the Mohawks of Tyendinaga, the prospects of a meeting in the short term appear to be remote.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and B.C. Premier John Horgan have appointed representatives to meet with the Wet'suwet'en. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

On Wednesday afternoon, Bennett released a letter, also signed by Fraser, saying that the two ministers could be in Smithers, B.C., as early as Thursday to meet with any hereditary chiefs available to "discuss these matters of great concern to the Wet'suwet'en nation."

The letter said that the ministers could also go at a later date to meet with the hereditary chiefs who are currently making their way to east.

"We look forward to continuing the discussion in person to achieve our shared goal of safe resolution of the current impasse," said the letter.

The letter said Bennett and Fraser were in Victoria on Monday to be ready to meet with the hereditary chiefs on short notice.

"While we were not able to meet in person then, we have continued the dialogue with multiple conversations with some of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in order to seek clarity and a path forward," said the letter.

Without movement between Ottawa, Victoria and the Wet'suwet'en, the window is closing on a possible short-term end to the two-week-old blockade along CN rail lines by Mohawk protesters that has shut down large sections of passenger traffic and paralyzed freight shipments between eastern and western Canada.

The blockade sits along the reserve boundary of Tyendinaga, about 240 km west of Ottawa.

Hereditary chiefs setting pre-conditions

The Mohawks have vowed not to leave until the RCMP withdraws from Wet'suwet'en territory. The Ontario Superior Court has issued an injunction against any continued interference with CN's business operations. The Ontario Provincial Police is now on the scene.

The B.C. RCMP said in a statement to CBC News that it is aware of the the Wet'suwet'en request that they leave the territory and that the issue is being discussed.

"Discussions are underway with respect to possible next steps," said B.C. RCMP S/Sgt. Janelle Shoihet in a statement to CBC News.

"Any options will have to be discussed with all stakeholders and out of respect for those discussions, we have nothing to publicly share at this time."

Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chief Woos tells Power & Politics that there will be no talks with the federal government until the RCMP leave Wet'suwet'en territory. 7:58

Wet'suwet'en hereditary Chief Woos, who also goes by the name of Frank Alec, told CBC's Power and Politics Tuesday that he won't meet with Ottawa or Victoria until the RCMP leaves his territory.

Woos wants a detachment set up by the RCMP removed from his Gidimt'en clan's lands.

Na'moks, who also goes by the name John Risdale, told The Canadian Press Wednesday that the hereditary chiefs won't enter into talks unless the RCMP and Coastal GasLink leave their territory.

"Remove RCMP from our territory, remove (Coastal GasLink) from our territory, and we'll have discussions," Na'moks told CP.

Na'moks also told CP that any meeting would have to be on Wet'suwet'en territory. 

Protesters gather at the rail blockade on the eleventh day of demonstration in Tyendinaga, near Belleville, Ont. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

The Trudeau government is dealing with a worsening crisis that was triggered on Feb. 6 in B.C. by an RCMP raid to enforce an injunction against Wet'suwet'en encampments along a forest road that were built to stop construction of a natural gas pipeline.

The RCMP raid in B.C. has led to protests and rail blockades across the country.

The Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline and say its approval for construction violated their recognized rights over the territory.

While several Wet'suwet'en bands signed deals for the project, the hereditary chiefs say they have jurisdiction over the nation's territory and cite a 1997 Supreme Court decision as supporting their position.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline is a key piece to the $40 billion LNG Canada export terminal under development in Kitimat, B.C., which is on the territory of the Haisla, who support the project.

with files from Oliva Stefanovich