Premier John Horgan, left, shares a laugh with with Chief Na’Moks (John Ridsdale) during a smoke feast in Witset March 16 held to announce a new round of discussions on Indigenous rights and title between the Wet’suwet’en and Province of British Columbia. (Thom Barker photo)

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs agree to sit down with Province at ‘Wiggus’ table

The Province issued a statement saying it welcomed the announcement as a positive sign

The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sit down with the Province for discussions surrounding their dispute with Coastal GasLink (CGL), however neither Premier John Horgan nor Justin Trudeau will be in attendance.

A Jan. 30 press release signed by eight chiefs the Office of the Wet’suwet’en said the discussions would take place for a period of seven days.

“The discussion table will be known as ‘Wiggus,’ the Wet’suwet’en word for respect,” the release says.

“In the landmark Supreme Court Decision of Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa Wiggus [was] defined as ‘respect for all living-beings, starting with oneself.’”

The discussions will begin next week with Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser representing the Province.

In response to enquiries to the Prime Minister’s office, The Interior News was redirected to the Office of the Minister of Natural Resources.

“Our government is committed to a renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership,” said Carlene Variyan, director of communications.

“This project went through a provincial review, and remains fully under provincial jurisdiction. We encourage all the parties involved to work together towards a solution.”

Na’Moks was critical of the federal government’s response.

“I think it’s an easy way out,” said Na’Moks. “The big issue is we have … heavy RCMP presence on our territory, well, you’ve got to realize the provinces only contract the RCMP from the federal government.”

The hereditary chiefs have repeatedly called for police to be removed from the territory. This includes from a roadblock that was set up earlier this month at the 27 kilometre point of the Morice West Forest Service Road and the RCMP Community-Industry Safety Office (C-ISO) located at the 29 kilometre point.

However contrary to that request, the RCMP confirmed to The Interior News on Jan. 30 they are mobilizing in the Bulkley Valley for enforcement of a Dec. 31, 2019 Supreme court injunction granting Coastal Gaslink (CGL) access to their worksite near Houston.

While additional officers have been moved into the area, a spokesperson for the RCMP said they will abide by the seven-day “Wiggus” period and wait for disucssions to take place before moving further.

The RCMP say the decision to mobilize was made before the announcement the Province and hereditary chiefs would be meeting. However, Na’Moks said he feels the police presence is moving in the wrong direction.

“That’s not what we talked about,” he said.

“We requested that [the Community-Industry Safety Office] that’s established on our territory at 29-kilometre be vacated. And also the fact that the enforcement level must be low, and so I was surprised.”

The hereditary chiefs have maintained on multiple occasions that no development can take place on their unceded territory without free, prior and informed consent, which they say they have not given at any time to CGL.

READ MORE: RCMP pipeline checkpoint ‘arbitrary and discriminatory,’ say B.C. complainants

However they have also maintained a desire to de-escalate and resolve the situation in a peaceful manner.

Na’Moks said the meetings were a positive step forward, but was very clear about how the chiefs see their function.

“This isn’t negotiations, it’s only discussion,” said Na’Moks, who added the Wet’suwet’en will remain adamantly opposed to the CGL development. “But this is called Wiggus, respect, we respect them to respect what we say and we will respect them if they tell us the truth.”

Fraser was previously in Smithers on Jan. 22 to attempt to meet with the hereditary chiefs, but no meeting took place.

According to Na’Moks, that was because of scheduling issues.

“When he had come up last we were in other meetings, we couldn’t cancel everything — we run a nation — and so we had representatives speak to him,” he said.

“If they can’t contact our office and set things up properly, you know? What did the Premier say himself, it takes months to set up his agenda, well it takes time for us too.”

Last week, Skeena-Bulkley MP Taylor Bachrach made another trip down to the police roadblock on the Morice West Service Road. In a Facebook post following the trip he said he’d be taking a message back to parliament.

“Tomorrow, I head back to Ottawa, where I will be calling on the federal government to play a more active role in upholding the honour of the Crown on this complex, divisive issue,” he wrote. “Here’s hoping a peaceful and just resolution remains within reach.”

Na’Moks seemed to share Bachrach’s sentiment.

“Our willingness to have these discussions is with good faith, now we need to see the honour of the Crown in this.”

The news of confirmed talks between the Province and hereditary chiefs comes after almost a month of increased tension following a Dec. 31 interlocutory injunction which upheld the previous injunction enforced on Jan. 7, 2019 by RCMP officers at the Gidimt’en checkpoint.

“We are proud, progressive Wet’suwet’en dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of our culture, traditions and territories; working as one for the betterment of all,” the Wet’suwet’en release about the talks concluded.

In its press release, the Office of the Premier said it also saw the announcement as a step forward.

“This Wiggus/Respect Table is an opportunity for all parties to work in good faith towards de-escalation, and we view this announcement as a positive sign that all involved are determined to find a peaceful resolution.”

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