Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett in Smithers, B.C. on Feb. 28, 2020. (The Canadian Press)

Wet’suwet’en elected chiefs call on Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister to resign

Wet’suwet’en are governed by both a traditional hereditary chief system and elected band councils.

The elected leadership of several First Nations split over a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia are calling for the immediate resignation of Crown–Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett.

In a statement released Monday, four elected Wet’suwet’en chiefs say the process by which the province, the federal government and the nation’s hereditary leaders arrived at a proposed memorandum of understanding on Wet’suwet’en rights and title is unacceptable.

In addition to calling for Bennett’s resignation, the elected chiefs are also asking the B.C. and federal governments to reject the current memorandum and begin the negotiation process again with full participation from elected leaders.

EXCLUSIVE: A first look at the land title memorandum between Wet’suwet’en, B.C. and Ottawa

“We feel it is important to reiterate that we agree with the pursuit of negotiations for Wet’suwet’en Rights and Title, but we take issue with the improper consultation with respect to an MOU which would lead to negotiations,” their statement says.

“This lack of proper consultation and secrecy means the governments are acting in bad faith contrary to the Honour of the Crown.”

The Wet’suwet’en are governed by both a traditional hereditary chief system and elected band councils.

Five elected Wet’suwet’en councils have signed agreements with Coastal Gaslink, which has government approval for construction of the pipeline that would carry natural gas through Wet’suwet’en territory to Kitimat on the B.C. coast.

But hereditary house chiefs say the company has no authority to build the pipeline through their territory without their consent, and their opposition sparked demonstrations and blockades that shut down large parts of the national economy in February.

Elected chiefs Rosemarie Skin of Skin Tyee Nation, Dan George of Ts’ilh Kaz Koh First Nation, Maureen Luggi of Wet’suwet’en First Nation and Patricia Prince of Nee Tahi Buhn Indian Band say elected council members were not permitted to see the draft memorandum until Thursday.

Details of the memorandum are sparse, but an agreement was reached on Feb. 29, and on April 29 the B.C. government said Wet’suwet’en clans had completed their review and given their support to sign it.

The memorandum has been framed as addressing land rights and title more broadly, rather than an agreement related to the pipeline.

The statement from the elected chiefs indicates the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, which is comprised of the nation’s hereditary leadership, has invited the federal and provincial governments to sign the memorandum this coming Thursday.

They say their nations met virtually with hereditary leaders as well as with Minister Bennett and her provincial counterpart in B.C., Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser, to voice their concerns last week.

The Canadian Press

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