Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde says it’s up to all Wet’suwet’en people to work through the draft agreement struck on Sunday between their hereditary chiefs and senior Canadian officials.
The agreement is the result of four days of negotiations, held in response to the hereditary chiefs’ opposition to the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern British Columbia that sparked solidarity protests and blockades across the country.
A joint statement by representatives of Wet’suwet’en Nation, the province and the federal government acknowledged they had not come to an agreement on the pipeline, and the company was expected to resume its work this week.
But they say the focus of the draft agreement is Wet’suwet’en rights and land title.
Bellegarde says it’s an opportunity to resolve unsettled issues dating back to a 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision that recognized the hereditary chiefs’ authority and the exclusive right of Wet’suwet’en peoples to the land, but fell short of recognizing the territorial boundaries.
He says it’s up to Wet’suwet’en people themselves to find the balance between hereditary chiefs and elected chiefs, which will take time, and those talks should include all those in the community.
“They haven’t had this formalized since 1997 (with) the Delgamuukw-Gisday’way decision,” Bellegarde told The Canadian Press on Wednesday after delivering a keynote address during a seminar on the repatriation of Indigenous cultural objects and ancestral remains at the University of British Columbia.
“It’s important for them to have that time and space to bear fruit from this agreement and that’s the dialogue I’ve had with the prime minister.”
Aboriginal rights and title are already recognized and affirmed through many Supreme Court decisions, Bellegarde added.
“Let’s get the executive and legislative branches of government, start to keep up with judicial branch is saying.”
The Canadian Press