SMITHERS, B.C.—Wetsuweten hereditary chiefs and senior government ministers reached a proposed arrangement Sunday following days of discussions over a pipeline dispute that prompted solidarity protests and transport disruptions across Canada in recent weeks.
Details of the draft deal, which centres on Indigenous rights and land titles, were not disclosed, however, and work on the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline at the heart of the dispute was set to resume Monday.
Federal Crown−Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and British Columbia Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser said the talks have helped address the land rights and title of the Wetsuweten.
“We, I believe, have come to a proposed arrangement that will also honour the protocols of the Wetsuweten people and clans,” Bennett said in a news conference in Smithers, B.C.
“What weve worked on this weekend needs to go back to those clans and then we have agreed as ministers that we will come back to sign if it is agreed upon by the Nation.”
She said the proposed arrangement is about making sure “that this never happens again, that rights holders will always be at the table.”
Chief Woos, one of the Wetsuweten hereditary leaders who were opposed to the pipeline, said the draft deal represents an important milestone for everyone involved but noted more work needs to be done.
He also stressed that the hereditary chiefs who were against the project remain opposed to the pipeline in their traditional territory.
“We are going to be continuing to look at some more conversations with B.C. and of course with the proponent and further conversation with the RCMP out on the territory,” Woos said.
“Its not over yet. We are just looking at more work in that area.”
Shortly after the proposed deal was announced, Coastal GasLink issued a statement saying it would resume construction activities in the Morice River area, which is near the Unistoten Healing Centre, on Monday.
“Coastal GasLink appreciates that a path has been identified to address significant issues of Aboriginal Title and Rights of the Wetsuweten people while recognizing that Coastal GasLink is fully permitted and remains on track for a 2023 in−service date,” president David Pfeiffer said in the statement.
He added the company “remains committed to dialogue and engagement” with all Indigenous groups along its route, including the Wetsuweten hereditary chiefs. “We are encouraged by Chief Woos statement that he is open to dialogue and look forward to an opportunity to meet with the hereditary chiefs,” he said.
The company had agreed to pause construction during the talks between the hereditary chiefs and the ministers, which began Thursday.
RCMP had also pledged to cease patrols along the Morice West Forest Service Road during the discussions. The Mounties could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday.
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