Wet’suwet’en agree to talks with province

Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en who have been trying to block the Coastal GasLink pipeline have agreed to a sit-down with the B.C. government.

In a press release issued Thursday by the office of the premier, Premier John Horgan said the Office of the Wet’suwet’en has agreed to join the province at a “wiggus” table.

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The Office of the Wet’suwet’en say “wiggus” is a Wet’suwet’en word that means “respect.”

“The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have agreed to enter a discussion with the Province of British Columbia, for a period of seven days, in an effort to de-escalate the ongoing conflict surrounding the Coastal Gas Link project,” the Office of the Wet’suwet’en say in a press release signed by eight hereditary chiefs.

"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,” Horgan said.

It's not clear if Horgan himself plans to be at the table.

The Wet’suwet’en have a dual governance structure, with both elected band councils and hereditary chiefs representing 13 houses and five clans.

There is division among the Wet'suwet'en over the $6.6 billion Coastal GasLink project, which is part of the $40 billion LNG Canada project.

All five elected band councils of the Wet’suwet’en support the project and have signed benefits agreements worth more than $300 million.

But there are 13 houses, and eight of the 13 hereditary chiefs are opposed to the project in their territory. Members of a group called the Unist’ot’en - affiliated with Dark House - have set up camps Houston B.C. on the Morice West Forest Service Road to try to prevent Coastal GasLink from doing work on the natural gas pipeline.

At the end of December, the BC Supreme Court issued an injunction and enforcement order, and the RCMP have set up check points to control who goes in and out of the contested area. So far no arrests have been made.

Last year, 14 people were arrested when RCMP moved in to demolish an occupation camp. Hereditary chiefs have refused to meet with Coastal GasLink and have demand nation-to-nation meetings with the provincial government.

Horgan himself has not met with the chiefs in the most recent standoff, but has sent government representatives, including Scott Fraser, minister of aboriginal relations and reconciliation and, more recently, Nathan Cullen, a former NDP MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley.

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