VANCOUVER — A Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief says the chiefs won’t meet with the federal government over their opposition to a natural gas pipeline until both the RCMP and Coastal GasLink leave their traditional territory.
Na’moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale, said Wednesday the chiefs have communicated their terms to Carolyn Bennett, the minister responsible for Crown-Indigenous relations.
Bennett has sought to meet with the chiefs as the federal government faces mounting pressure to take action against protesters and demonstrators whose blockades have stopped road and rail traffic across the country.
“Remove RCMP from our territory, remove (Coastal GasLink) from our territory, and we’ll have discussions,” Na’moks said.
Even if the conditions are met, the meeting won’t happen soon.
Four of five clan chiefs, who are the highest leaders under the First Nation’s traditional form of governance, were travelling to Mohawk territory Wednesday to thank members of the First Nation for their solidarity.
Na’moks said any meeting with the federal government would have to take place on the Wet’suwet’en territory, which means it wouldn’t occur until next week at the earliest.
He said he’s not concerned that the chiefs might miss a window of opportunity for dialogue with the federal government.
“We’ve been here for thousands of years,” he said. “It’s their timeline, it’s not ours.”
Coastal GasLink, the pipeline builder, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
RCMP said in a statement Tuesday night they are aware of the request and discussions are underway on next steps.
The request concerns a small, mobile detachment in a remote area of British Columbia where RCMP arrested 28 people when they enforced an injunction on behalf of Coastal GasLink this month.
Most officers have left the area since RCMP said their major operations in the region have concluded, but they’ve said the mobile unit would remain in place and they’ll continue “patrols of the corridor to ensure everyone’s safety.”
During an emergency debate Tuesday night, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said Bennett spoke with the chiefs that day.
The situation is evolving hour by hour, he said, describing the de-escalation efforts as positive.
“Clearly we see there is a path forward, we see there is modest and positive progress,” he said.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has called his own meeting, saying on Twitter that as chairman of the Council of the Federation he will convene a conference call with Canada’s premiers.
Moe said the blockades have been up for almost two weeks and while the prime minister spoke in Parliament about the ongoing illegal activity “he offered no course of action to protect the economic interests of our nation.”
Quebec Premier Francois said he wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to issue an ultimatum to protesters to take down rail blockades within days, while Alberta Premier Jason Kenney calls the extended illegal protests of Canada’s rail lines “anarchy.”
Via Rail says it is temporarily laying off 1,000 employees due to blockades that continue to stop service on CN tracks in Eastern Canada.
Trudeau told reporters Wednesday his government is trying to find a resolution, but also acknowledged the economic impact that the rail blockades are having across the country.
“We know that people are facing shortages, they’re facing disruptions, they’re facing layoffs. That’s unacceptable. That’s why we’re going to continue working extremely hard with everyone involved to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2020.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press