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One year on - Wet’suwet’en people's disputed territory remains in limbo

Just over a year since a dispute over the access to traditional territory in Northern British Columbia (B.C.) arose between Wet'suwet'en people and a pipeline company, tensions between the two parties have re-emerged.

The Wet’suwet’en chiefs have incessantly opposed the $6.6-billion project, which would connect gas fields in North-Eastern B.C. with the planned LNG Canada export plant in Kitimat. Last week they issued eviction notices to Coastal GasLink workers to vacate the premises immediately.

However, following the recent extreme cold weather across the North Coast, the hereditary chiefs of Wet'suwet'en have approved a ‘one-time access’  to workers from a natural gas pipeline construction site on their traditional territory.

A statement was given on Sunday by five Wet’suwet’en chiefs:

“This limited access was offered in good faith as a demonstration of wiggus or respect by us, despite the lack of consent for [Coastal GasLink’s] property and pre-construction activities on our unseeded territory.” 

The First Nation chiefs claimed that the company wrote to them agreeing that they will vacate the site following an operation to prevent damage to their equipment.

Our focus remains on finding a peaceful and mutually agreeable resolution,” Coastal GasLink spokesperson Suzanne Wilton said.

In January 2019, Canada’s federal police, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), imposed a provisional injunction against a Wet'suwet'en group that had implemented measures to block the construction of the contentious Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Recently, on December 31, 2019, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Margeurite Church ruled that, although the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs had not consented to construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their territory, the RCMP would be authorised to remove and, potentially, criminalise those obstructing the construction.

It was claimed by Al Jazeera, a recent raid by the RCMP involved lethal force against the Wet'suwet'en people near the site.

"They're clearly willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that this pipeline gets built," Wet'suwet'en land defender 'Sleydo' (Molly Wickham) said.

This has brought about widespread criticism and has prompted the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to call for Canada to halt the project’s construction unless official informed consent is gained.

They insisted the project will “cause irreparable harm to indigenous peoples rights, culture, lands, territories and way of life.”

See tweets from BC's first independent Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender on the issue below.

Govender urged Canadian leaders to support a democratic procedure in a string of tweets, that she posted on Friday. 

The North Vancouver Environment Minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, as the future of the territory remains to be in question. 

Read more from The Canadian Press here