Canada’s indigenous leaders have reached an agreement with government officials in a land dispute that has sparked widespread protests and railway blockades throughout the country.
The tentative resolution follows three days and nights of intense negotiations between hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en nation in British Columbia and federal and provincial ministers – but falls short of addressing concerns over a controversial natural gas pipeline project.
“We, I believe, have come to a proposed arrangement that will also honour the protocols of the Wet’suwet’en people and clans,” Carolyn Bennett, the Crown-Indigenous Relations minister, said.
Leaders met in British Columbia to address longstanding frustrations among the Wet’suwet’en over a previous refusal by the federal and provincial governments to recognise both Wet’suwet’en’s governance structure, which uses hereditary chiefs instead of elected councils, and their 22,000 sq km of traditional territory. The Wet’suwet’en have never signed away the rights to their land or agreed any treaty with the Canadian government.
“As Wet’suwet’en, we are the land, and the land is ours,” chief Frank Alec, who goes by the hereditary name Woos, said at a news conference, calling the agreement “quite a milestone”.