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Elected Wet’suwet’en chiefs are calling on Carolyn Bennett—the Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister—to resign immediately, after an agreement between the hereditary chiefs, Ottawa and BC was allegedly drafted without their permission.
Four elected chiefs are asking the federal and BC governments, in a joint statement, to dismiss the memorandum of understanding (MOU) concerning rights and title involving the hereditary chiefs. They are looking to start the negotiations over with elected leadership, according to CBC News.
Steps to bring Wet’suwet’en territory under traditional governance are included in the draft MOU. The agreement covers water land and revenue-sharing and also may give hereditary chiefs much more leverage in future resource development.
The statement comes after meetings between hereditary chiefs and elected chiefs and separate meetings with federal and provincial ministers.
Chief Dan George of Ts'ilh Kaz Koh First Nation signed the release along with Chief Rosemarie Skin of Skin Tyee Nation, Chief Patricia Prince of Nee Thai Buhn Indian Band and Chief Maureen Luggi of Wet'suwet'en First Nation.
When speaking with CBC News, Luggi said that elected chiefs are calling for Bennett’s resignation instead of Scott Fraser, the BC Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister, because of the constitutional relationship Bennett has with First Nations as she is the minister representing the crown.
"In this instance, we are witnessing a failure of the Crown and we believe they are wanting to pursue negotiations and leaving a certain group of people out," Luggi noted.
"When you look at Aboriginal rights and title, they are collective rights and all members and all of our interests must be respected at every stage."
Luggi added that elected chiefs are thinking about taking legal action.
"How do they expect to receive or achieve ratification if this is how things are starting out right now?" Luggi said.
A six hour meeting was held virtually by elected chiefs on Thursday. The meeting was the first time they saw the draft MOU.
"The meeting was at the request of the Office of the Wet'suwet'en, but they treated us improperly and failed to adequately inform us regarding the proceedings and processes that have taken place to date," said the statement.
"They are not following the responsibility of the hereditary chiefs … To ignore their clan members and elected councils, something is terribly amiss."
The elected chiefs spoke to Bennet and Fraser over the phone last Thursday as well and shared their concerns.
"We reiterated to the ministers once again that the process they have conducted to date is completely unacceptable and disrespectful to our people," wrote the chiefs.
"We agree with the pursuit of negotiations for Wet'suwet'en rights and title, but we take issue with the improper consultation."
According to the elected chiefs, the hereditary chiefs have no legal authority to sign the documents for both groups as they do not represent them.
They elected chiefs also claim to be the legal authority for the territories.
A virtual signing of the document is set to take place on May 14 involving Fraser, Bennett and the hereditary chiefs. It will be publicly released after the signing.
A three-month negotiation period is set out by the MOU along with a months-long period of negotiations involving the transfer of jurisdiction for the territory in northern BC.
The MOU was brought forward after the disagreement between elected and hereditary chiefs on the Coastal GasLink pipeline. There have already been protests and blockades over the dispute that have had tough consequences on Canada’s economy.
The dispute over the pipeline will not be resolved with the MOU but it is meant to clarify who will be speaking for Wet’suwet’en people as negotiations continue.
The natural gas pipeline project is still opposed by most hereditary chiefs.