Hereditary chiefs from Wet’suwet’en First Nation were expected to return to British Columbia Sunday after visiting Mohawk communities in eastern Canada, with no signs that blockades crippling the country’s rail network will come down.
The actions are in solidarity with hereditary chiefs contesting a British Columbia natural gas pipeline and after two weeks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday that while his government is ready to talk, the blockades must come down, calling the situation “unacceptable and untenable.”
The blockades, particularly one on a critical east-west rail line near Belleville, Ont., are in support of those hereditary chiefs who oppose the project, despite support from elected band councils along the pipeline route in B.C.
The traditional chiefs visited supporters in Tyendinaga and Kahnawake, south of Montreal, this week, and repeated their conditions for talks to begin remain the same and have yet to be met.
Hereditary Chief Woos, said they are ready to engage in nation-to-nation talks with the B.C. and federal government once the RCMP and Coastal GasLink leave their traditional territory and cease work on the natural gas pipeline project.
“We want to stay consistent on our answers,” Woos, also known as Frank Alec, told reporters on Saturday. “We’re waiting for the RCMP to vacate the premises.”
Last Thursday, the RCMP in B.C. sent a letter to the traditional leaders of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, telling them the force intends to move its officers off the access road and station them instead in the nearby town of Houston.
Woos, of the Grizzly House, told reporters in Kahnawake on Saturday that attempts to reach out to Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller have not been returned since Trudeau’s announcement on Friday.
“It seems to me like ever since Mr. Trudeau has made his announcement, the communication has ceased,” Woos said.
But senior cabinet ministers said Sunday the federal government remained ready to talk.
Speaking Sunday on Global’s news and political affairs series “The West Block,” the minister for Crown-Indigenous relations styled conversations as productive and that all sides were making good progress.
Carolyn Bennett said that “at no time have we stopped negotiations.”
She added later in the interview that “keeping the conversation open” along with the removal of the RCMP from the Wet’suwet’en territory are “really important criteria to getting us through this difficult patch and on to a good path.”
She said there are differing opinions within the Wet’suwet’en Nation, and it is the nation itself that has to sort out the divide.
“Within the Wet’suwet’en community that there are differing opinions and matriarchs, there are people that are speaking up about their issues as well,” Bennett told the program.
“The solution will be found in the Wet’suwet’en community as they come together with their vision of self-determination and how they can form a government and write their own laws.”
On CTV’s “Question Period,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the barricades needed to come down and that the federal government is committed to dialogue. He urged the hereditary chiefs to come back to the table.
“We all understand the importance of a peaceful resolution, but a speedy resolution, because the impact of these barricades is unacceptable, untenable,” Blair said.
“It can’t be maintained because of the harm that it is causing and so we have confidence in the police to do the job peaceably.”
I don’t believe personally that it’s ever appropriate to put armed services up against Canadians in any part of Canada.Public Safety Minister Bill Blair
He said that it was the responsibility of the police in each jurisdiction to deal with the blockades and was cool to the idea of the federal government sending in the military to forcibly remove demonstrators.
“I don’t believe personally that it’s ever appropriate to put armed services up against Canadians in any part of Canada,” Blair told the program.
“The armed services perform an essential role to this country, but the police also perform an essential role.”
Some barricades have come down, including one in St-Lambert, Que., late Friday, which will allow the St-Hilaire commuter train line to resume service on Monday, according to Exo, the company that oversees commuter rail service in the Montreal area.
Meanwhile, Via Rail service has said it is set to resume certain routes, including its Quebec City-Montreal-Ottawa route on Monday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2020.