Wet’suwet’en chiefs, ministers reach proposed agreement in pipeline dispute

SMITHERS, B.C. — A Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief and senior government ministers say they have reached a proposed arrangement in a pipeline dispute that has prompted solidarity protests across Canada in recent weeks.

Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and British Columbia Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser would not give details on the proposal, saying it first has to be reviewed by the Wet’suwet’en people.

Fraser says that while the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline at the heart of the dispute is already approved and underway, the talks have helped develop a protocol to deal with such projects in the future.

Chief Woos, one of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders, says the proposal represents an important milestone for everyone involved.

But he says the hereditary chiefs remain opposed to the pipeline in their traditional territory.

The dispute has spurred solidarity protests that have disrupted passenger and freight train service over the last three weeks. Police recently moved to dismantle some of the blockades.

Sunday’s announcement came as talks between the hereditary chiefs and the ministers entered a fourth day.

The Wet’suwet’en are governed by both a traditional hereditary chief system and elected band councils. A majority of its councils have approved the pipeline, but some of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose it running through their traditional territory.

The dispute also involves other unsettled land rights and title issues, including who has the right to negotiate with governments and corporations, the fact that the land is not covered by a treaty and remains unceded, and a 1997 court case that recognized the hereditary chiefs’ authority and the exclusive right of the Wet’suwet’en peoples to the land but did not specify the boundaries.

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