The Office of the Wet’suwet’en remains hopeful that they can move forward and continue discussions with the provincial government regarding liquified natural gas projects after what the office called some “misinformation” recently.
A few weeks ago, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs backed away from an agreement that would allow the province to move ahead with the Pacific Trail pipeline that would bring natural gas to Kitimat for a proposed LNG plant.
Following a meeting in the summer, hereditary chiefs discovered the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation supposedly linked its offer of support for the pipeline to continued funding for the child welfare initiative called the Anuk Nu’ At’en Ba’glgh’iyi z’ilhdic Program (ANABIP), that has been running for the past few years.
“When we saw this, we were absolutely dismayed that our ANABIP program was being totted as an LNG initiative. I don’t know how you can misinterpret this, this is pretty clear to me what this presentation was about,” said Debbie Pierre, executive director with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en.
The office also sent back a $25,000 cheque for “capacity funding for engagement on liquified natural gas development.”
“We do not accept funds if it’s not consistent with our . . . laws and philosophy,” said Pierre.
But Minister of Aboriginal Affairs John Rustad said this was not their intent.
“The discussion with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en has always been very separate from discussions on liquified natural gas and the pipeline talks that we’ve had,” he said. “I heard very clearly from the Office of the Wet’suwet’en that this a program of great importance for them and we’ve treated them as such and we have not, in any way, linked that program and that success to any types of discussions we’ve had.”
“I apologize if there was any confusion around that,” said Rustad.
But Pierre doesn’t believe this is a misunderstanding.
“I understand that minister Rustad has stated that we misinterpreted, but it’s right here,” she said. “In our minds and very clearly, it’s printed under their authored document that ANABIP is under the B.C. initiative for LNG.”
NPD MLA Doug Donaldson agreed, adding the government is trying to strong-arm the Wet’suwet’en into signing the agreement.
“I don’t know how [the documents] can be a misundersanding. It would be laughable if it wasn’t such a disgraceful situation,” said Donaldson.
Rustad said he is in talks with the office to meet with the hereditary chiefs to resolve the misunderstanding.
But Pierre is hoping to move forward.
“Despite challenges we’ve faced, the hereditary chiefs are still open to talking and seeing if there is the ability to create a positive relationship with the province,” she said.
“But if it’s going to be under the narrow vision of LNG, the chiefs have made very clear, our children and families are not up for sale.
“We haven’t closed the doors. Let’s reset the button.”
The wellness initiative has helped roughly 60-80 families since it began providing services in 2012. Funding will continue until March 31, but past then, the office hasn’t been able to secure funding for it.
Pierre said it will cost approximately $600,000 annually to keep the program running.