AFN national chief calls for calm on Wet’suwet’en crisis, rail blockades

OTTAWA — The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations is calling for calm and constructive dialogue to ease tensions over a British Columbia pipeline project and the nationwide protests it’s spawned.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde is telling reporters in Ottawa that governments and industry have to give the time and space to work with the Wet’suwet’en people.

Hereditary chiefs in the Wet’suwet’en First Nation oppose the natural-gas pipeline through their traditional territory, though it’s received approval from elected band councils.

Since the RCMP moved in to enforce an injunction and keep the hereditary chiefs and their supporters away from the pipeline worksites, protests by Indigenous people and supporters have shut down the CN rail network in eastern Canada, suspended most Via Rail passenger service, and temporarily blocked traffic on streets and bridges and at ports in multiple cities.

Bellegarde says he has spoken with all parties involved to find a way forward.

“We say we want to de-escalate and we want dialogue,” he says.

“And I say our people are taking action because they want to see action — and when they see positive action by the key players, when they see a commitment to real dialogue to address this difficult situation, people will respond in a positive way.”

Other chiefs speaking alongside Bellegarde suggest it may be time to bring the situation to a peaceful conclusion and bring down the blockades.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under increasing pressure to end the blockades, which he says he wants to do quickly but peacefully. He is set to address the House of Commons later this morning.

Indigenous-relations ministers both federally and in B.C. are seeking to meet leaders of British Columbia First Nations in hopes of finding a solution.

Also Tuesday, Via announced it expects to resume partial passenger service Thursday between Ottawa and Quebec City, including a stop in Montreal.

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