Resolution follows days of intense negotiation but falls short of agreement over controversial natural gas pipeline

Resolution follows days of intense negotiation but falls short of agreement over controversial natural gas pipeline

Indigenous leaders in Canada have reached a milestone agreement with government officials in a land dispute that has sparked widespread protests and railway blockades throughout the country.
The tentative resolution follows three days and nights of intense negotiations between hereditary chiefs of the Wetsuweten nation in British Columbia and federal and provincial ministers but falls short of addressing concerns over a controversial natural gas pipeline project.
We, I believe, have come to a proposed arrangement that will also honour the protocols of the Wetsuweten people and clans, Carolyn Bennett, the Crown-Indigenous Relations minister, told reporters late on Sunday.
Leaders had met in British Columbia to address longstanding frustrations among the Wetsuweten over a previous refusal by the federal and provincial governments to recognize both Wetsuwetens governance structure, which uses hereditary chiefs instead of elected councils, and their 22,000 sq km of traditional territory. The Wetsuweten have never signed away the rights to their land or entered into any treaty with the Canadian government.
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The Wetsuweten nation have lived on their territories in what is now British Columbia for thousands of years. They have never signed treaties or sold their land to Canada. 
With a population of about 5,000, the Wetsuweten are composed of five clans (Gilseyhu, Likhtsamisyu, Laksilyu, Tsayu and Gidimten), which are further divided into 13 house groups, each with its own distinct territories.  
The Unistoten, the People of the Headwaters, belong to the Gilseyhu clan. 
Hereditary chiefs are responsible for the health and sustainability of their house group territories, and Wetsuweten law prohibits trespass on the territory of other the house groups. 
Wetsuweten people have retained their legal traditions and continue to govern themselves through the Bahtlats (feast hall), where decisions are ratified and clan business is conducted.
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As Wetsuweten, we are the land, and the land is ours, chief Frank Alec, who goes by the hereditary name Woos, said at the news conference, calling the agreement quite a milestone.
The text of the agreement has not yet been released, as members of the Wetsuweten must first approve the document.
But the draft resolution marks a significant shift in the long-simmering dispute between the Wetsuweten hereditary chiefs and government officials. The Wetsuweten have long argued they have authority over the land not the elected First Nations band councils.
Tensions came to a head in recent months, after the company Coastal GasLink won a court injunction to continue construction of its multibillion dollar natural gas pipeline, a third of which would cross through Wetsuweten traditional territory.
The C$6.6bn (US$5bn) project has the support of 20 elected First Nations councils along the proposed route. Five of the six elected band councils in the Wetsuweten nation also support the pipeline but Wetsuweten hereditary chiefs do not.
In early February, police arrested 28 people demonstrating against the project on Wetsuweten territory, sparking a string of protests and blockades across the country which have hampered freight and commuter rail transport across the country.
Despite significant progress made over the question of land title and governance, tensions over the pipeline remains unresolved, said Woos.
Coastal GasLink said they would resume pipeline construction on Monday, having temporarily halted work while talks between the hereditary chiefs and Canadian governments were continuing.

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