Kathleen Martens and Jamie Pashagumskum
A group of hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs from B.C., flanked by Mohawk allies in Ontario, showed no sign Friday of ending protests that have stopped trains and led to reported widespread job losses across Canada.
Chief Woos (Frank Alec), sitting next to Kanenhariyo, Seth Lefort, said there would be no meeting with the country’s top politicians until their demands are met.
Woos and other chiefs had flown to Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory earlier this week to thank the Mohawks for bringing CN Rail to a standstill in Belleville, two hours east of Toronto and other parts of Ontario.
Sporadic barricades in other parts of Canada have also affected train travel.
The clan chiefs’ demands include RCMP vacating their territory, south of Houston, B.C., and Coastal GasLink abandoning its plans to build a pipeline that will carry fracked natural gas across 190 km of Wet’suwet’en territory.
The $6.6-billion pipeline runs from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, B.C., and has been approved by provincial political, environmental and regulatory agencies.
Twenty elected First Nation councils along the route have signed impact benefit agreements worth millions in employment spinoffss according to the company.
But the clans, who claim jurisdiction over their traditional territory, continue to reject the project. And they’ve received support from Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples across the country, including the Mohawks of Tyendinaga and Kahnawake outside Montreal.
“We heard Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau just a little while ago talking about the inconvenience that Canada has suffered,” said Woos, a Wet’suwet’en house chief, of the prime minister’s news conference that ended just before their’s began.
“However, there is a difference between inconvenience and injustice.”
Trudeau said the standoff has hurt ordinary Canadians and should end, especially since the chiefs have refused to meet with his ministers to discuss their grievances.
Woos said there “are historical wrongs” of the past, as well as pipeline problems that connect them with the Mohawks.
“Today the Mohawk people and the Wet’suwet’en people stood in solidarity at the Mohawk Council House in Tyendinaga to affirm they will not stand by and watch while Wet’suwet’en title and rights over their land are ignored,” he told a news conference at the Mohawk Community Centre.
Despite Trudeau’s urging, Lefort said Mohawks won’t lift the protest by the side of the CN Rail line until they get the OK from the hereditary chiefs.
“The RCMP must get out. We haven’t added any other conditions,” Lefort said.
Woos said police were committing “human rights abuses” in Wet’suwet’en territory, with “increased harassment…illegal arrests, increased surveillance and monitoring of Wet’suwet’en people and their invited guests” after publicly announcing they had withdrawn from the area.
“This is completely unacceptable and far from the show of good faith, and contradicts an announcement by the B.C. RCMP.”
Woos said the both the Wet’suweten clan leaders and Mohawk peoples were “deeply concerned” by the “myriad of laws Canada that has broken.”
He then rhymed off a list of national and international rights and title decisions that uphold traditional Indigenous leadership.
“We want to remind Canada and the world that Wet’suwet’en land was never ceded or surrendered (and) as such Canada’s actions amount to an illegal occupation in Wet’suwet’en territory,” Woos said.
“We also want to remind the Canadian government that the rail line shutdowns could have been ended many days ago if only Canada, B.C., CGL and the RCMP had honoured their own laws, as well as respected Wet’suwet’en law.”
Woos indicated his side was willing to talk once police were fully off their territory and “nation to nation” discussions were held with Canada and B.C. on Wet’suwet’en territory.