Crystal Smith: Pipeline issue up to Wet’suwet’en people

The following is a guest column from our alliance chair, Chief Crystal Smith, that ran in the Smithers Interior News on 15 January 2020:

Pipeline issue up to Wet’suwet’en people

Chair of the First Nations LNG Alliance hopes for a resolution to Coastal GasLink conflict soon

The Coastal GasLink pipeline project offers lasting benefits for First Nations people and communities along the pipeline route from northeast B.C. to Kitimat.

It is unfortunate that the project is being held up by an argument over who controls some of the First Nation territory on the route, and who speaks for the First Nations people affected.

The issue is one for the Wet’suwet’en people to resolve, and we at the First Nations LNG Alliance, of which I am chair, would hope to see it resolved soon.

The elected councils of all 20 Nations on the pipeline route have approved the pipeline, and have benefit agreements.

Some of those councils include hereditary chiefs. Not all hereditary chiefs agree with the efforts to kill the pipeline, then.

I underline that these councils are elected by the Nations’ people. Do the elected councils not also have a role in speaking for the people? Of course they do.

Elected chiefs and councils are perfectly legitimate bodies who are democratically elected to represent the interests of their people, including their economic benefits. And governments and courts recognize the jurisdiction of First Nation councils.

I hope that the Wet’suwet’en people will soon come together, with dignity and respect, to sort out how elected and hereditary leaders can work together for the best outcomes for their territories and their people.

In the case of my Nation, the Haisla, the elected council consulted the people, openly and honestly and often, and the majority vote of the Haisla people was to approve the LNG Canada project, and the Coastal GasLink pipeline that will feed natural gas to it.

And so the elected Haisla council signed benefit agreements with both LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink. Incidentally, two Haisla hereditary chiefs attended the celebration and signing ceremony.

The pipeline project, LNG Canada, and the Kitimat LNG project, mean much to our Haisla people. Our council is tired of managing poverty and the resulting social problems. And our people want the same quality of life that every other person in Canada has.

More than one third of the work completed on the Coastal GasLink project has been conducted by Indigenous people. The project has awarded millions of dollars in contract work to Indigenous businesses. and there will be more to come.

In the end, what matters is the people, and we hope that the Coastal GasLink pipeline issue can all be resolved — by the Wet’suwet’en people and for the Wet’suwet’en people — as soon as possible.

I am disappointed to hear the group of protesting hereditary chiefs now saying that they will no longer talk with Coastal GasLink, and will hold discussions only with federal and provincial governments, and the RCMP.

I would hope that they will soon resume talks with Coastal GasLink. We need all parties at the table on these issues.

In the end, the difference over governance among the Wet’suwet’en is a matter for the people of the Wet’suwet’en Nation to resolve.

They do not need outside help or outside interference or outside activists to do that.

It is a matter for them and them alone.

Crystal Smith is the elected chief councillor of the Haisla Nation, and is chair of the First Nations LNG Alliance, a collective of First Nations that support sustainable and responsible LNG development in B.C.

The column as carried by the Interior News

Posted here 16 January 2020