A draft agreement between the Trudeau government and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs will give the hereditary chiefs sweeping powers over natural resource development.
The draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) obtained by CBC will transfer many powers to the hereditary chiefs and give them legal recognition to speak on behalf of the Wet’suwet’en people.
The jurisdictional powers to be given the hereditary chiefs include the “fair and just compensation” for natural resources and land, as well as family services.
Throughout January and February, a group of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs led protests against the Coastal GasLink pipeline which is being built within their traditional territory.
Protesters acting in solidarity with the hereditary chiefs illegally blockaded railways, ports and public buildings across Canada.
The Coastal GasLink pipeline is supported by the elected chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en. Until this MOU is signed, elected chiefs are the only legally recognized voice of the Wet’suwet’en people.
The MOU is expected to be signed on May 14th.
Elected Chief Dan George of Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation is suspicious as to why the Trudeau government wants to give the hereditary chiefs so much power after their protests illegally shut down much of Canada’s transportation network.
“I don’t see why the government gave them this because this has got nothing to do with what the protests across Canada started from,” he said.
“Those issues are not resolved. They can set up roadblocks again and do it again, and that’s what I’m worried about.”
The elected chiefs are calling for the signing to be postponed, saying the Wet’suwet’en people need to resolve their internal governance disputes before signing such a radical agreement.
“That’s like signing an agreement to buy a car and negotiating the price later,” George said.
“That’s kind of backwards.”
George accuses the hereditary chiefs of trying to push the agreement as quickly as possible.
“If they [hereditary leaders] get this title and rights over our lands, which is part of my territory — not all of it — it has huge implications for my band members.”
In early March the Trudeau government began negotiating with the hereditary chiefs in secret meetings which lead to the MOU. The elected chiefs were not invited.
On Tuesday Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett told elected chiefs that the government would not postpone the May 14 signing date.