Dispute in Wet’suwet’en territory over natural gas line has high economic and political stakes
The conflict over a natural gas pipeline in northwestern British Columbia is the latest flashpoint between resource development and Indigenous rights and title in a province where large swaths of territory are not covered by any treaty.
At the centre of the conflict is a multi-billion dollar natural gas project — touted as the largest private sector investment in Canadian history — and an assertion by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs that no pipelines can be built through their traditional territory without their consent.
The $6-billion, 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline has received approval from the province, and 20 First Nations band councils have signed agreements in support of the project, including five of the six band councils in the Wet’suwet’en nation.
However, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say those band councils are only responsible for the territory within their individual reserves because their authority comes only from the Indian Act. The hereditary chiefs — who are the leaders of the nation’s governance system in place before the imposition of the Indian Act — assert authority over 22,000 square kilometres of the nation’s traditional territory, an area recognized as unceded by the Supreme Court of Canada in a 1997 decision.
Chantelle Bellrichard – Jorge Barrera – CBC News – Feb 5, 2020.