Elected Wet’suwet’en leaders are continuing to speak up to be included in ongoing discussions surrounding a tentative land rights and title agreement reached between hereditary chiefs and the provincial and federal governments.
“Negotiation of this agreement has moved forward without our Wet’suwet’en communities,” said Maureen Luggi, chief councillor of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation located west of Burns Lake.
Details of the agreement, which was reached March 1 in Smithers between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the provincial and federal governments, have yet to emerge but are expected to be debated and accepted or rejected by Wet’suwet’en members over the next two weeks.
The tentative agreement, for now, has eased tensions in the region over the continued progress of work along the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline route south of Houston.
Wet’suwet’en chiefs have long opposed pipeline work in that area, asserting traditional decision-making authority.
The refusal to obey a B.C. Supreme Court injunction to stop restricting access in that area resulted in arrests early last month, touching off a series of solidarity blockades and demonstrations across the country.
“While we respect that our hereditary leaders are an important part of our governing system and culture, we are mindful that the Office of the Wet’suwet’en is a society registered under provincial law,” said Luggi.
“While this society purports to represent our Wet’suwet’en communities, they have effectively left us out of these discussions and excluded us from participation in reaching the agreement.”
Luggi was also critical of the federal and provincial governments, saying elected Wet’suwet’en leaders were ignored during negotiations.
She said the Wet’suwet’en First Nation council is reaching out to other elected band councils and to the Office of the Wet’suwet’en to “encourage transparency and inclusive engagement.”
“Negotiation of legal and political issues regarding aboriginal rights and title must be a collective effort, as both hereditary and elected leaders represent the same people,” she said.
Luggi is now one of five elected Wet’suwet’en Nation chief councillors to issue a call for inclusion.