Pipeline owners say they have consent, but Wet’suwet’en leaders are divided
With members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation blockading a pipeline project on their traditional lands, Na’moks was standing by a crackling campfire, next to an RCMP checkpoint, drawing in the snow with his right boot.
The hereditary chief of the Tsayu clan made a small circle to represent the authority of elected band councils within reserves. Outside that circle, he explained, is where Wet’suwet’en clans wield power over a vast territory. “We are hereditary chiefs,” he said, “and we have control of this land.”
The temporary checkpoint was set up earlier this week in a remote area of the B.C. Interior as things got tense, with RCMP officers arresting 14 protesters on Monday at a blockade erected last month along a logging road.
The road leads to the Unist’ot’en camp on the Morice River bridge, where hereditary leaders were preventing construction workers from TransCanada Corp.’s Coastal GasLink pipeline project from passing. By Friday, the barriers were coming down, after the protesters agreed to comply with an interim court injunction to grant workers temporary access to the area. The way forward for the project, however, remains uncertain.
The pipeline is a vital piece of infrastructure for the launch of British Columbia’s liquefied-natural-gas sector, supplying the planned $40-billion LNG Canada project – the largest private investment in the province’s history. Almost a third of the proposed pipeline route crosses the territory to which the Wet’suwet’en maintain aboriginal rights and title.