The elected chief of one of six bands within the Wet’suwet’en nation says she and other elected representatives should have been included in recent negotiations over rights and title with the provincial and federal governments.
Maureen Luggi is the chief of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation — a band under the Indian Act, as opposed to the larger Wet’suwet’en Nation, encompassing all Wet’suwet’en people.
“We did express that in a letter to the Office of Wet’suwet’en [hereditary chiefs], that all of the six Wet’suwet’en communities were excluded from the process, we don’t know who was invited to participate,” she told CKNW on Wednesday.
“We later learned that other Wet’suwet’en communities were excluded.”
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Luggi said she expects to soon see the tentative agreement through her membership of the Gitdumden clan, one of five Wet’suwet’en clans.
But in the end, she said, reaching consensus on whether or not to accept the proposed deal will require the involvement of all the Wet’suwet’en.
“That is what concerned us, that if anyone is going to move forward on behalf of the clan members in this community regarding Aboriginal rights and title, then our people need to be acknowledged and they need to communicate with us,” she said.
“They need to engage our people and collaborate with us regardless of the Indian Act.”
Luggi said she’s hoping to learn more at an upcoming meeting with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en.
The deal will need to be ratified by all five Wet’suwet’en clans, a process that does not currently have a timeline.
Global News requested comment from hereditary chief spokesperson Chief Na’Moks on Luggi’s concerns.
The draft deal between the Wet’suwet’en and government does not address the dispute over the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
While five elected Wet’suwet’en band councils have signed deals with the project, the hereditary chiefs who maintain they have exclusive authority over unceded traditional territory remain firmly opposed.
Crystal Smith, elected chief of the neighbouring Haisla Nation — which is participating in the construction of the massive LNG export plant the pipeline would feed — said the dispute within the Wet’suwet’en is not surprising.
“We empathize with their community. Unfortunately, most First Nations communities do endure those types of disagreements when it comes to leadership,” she said.
Luggi said the Wet’suwet’en First Nation signed its benefit agreement with Coastal GasLink in 2014, when she was not chief, but that the community planned to go ahead with it.
She said the band was hopeful the agreement would help fund what the band has determined to be its four pillars: Housing, health and wellness, language and culture, education and training.
“Now that the forest industry is on the decline, liquefied natural gas became another potential resource of which Aboriginal people would have a say as to how that is going to play out within our territories,” she said.
“I feel like we’ve been probably more informed with a project of this nature than we have ever been with any other project that’s gone through our territories.”
— With files from Sarah MacDonald
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