As we’re forced further into our ideological identities, as either ‘for’ or ‘against’ the Coastal GasLink Project, I think it’s important we take a look back at the regulatory record to see how we may have gotten to where we are; to see what has been submitted by Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen, Coastal GasLink (CGL) and the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO).
Optimistically, the increased attention to this project could result in meaningful discussions with Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen. Pessimistically, we’ll be trampled deeper into our group-think corners where the ability to communicate effectively with the other side feels incredibly futile (and possibly traitorous to those standing next to you, growling, “how dare you”). When all is said and done, we can just hope this becomes one piece to the reconciliation puzzle.
There are 13 houses within five Wet’suwet’en clans. The BC Government states Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen offers services to its communities in the areas of land and resources, fisheries and wildlife, social services and treaty negotiations. However, Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen claims they have jurisdiction and authority over their traditional territory’s 22,000 square kilometres. BC and Canada recognize Wet’suwet’en First Nation and their elected council as the representatives of the Wet’suwet’en.
Each house has a house chief. These are no longer physical houses, but rather family names. There is some nomination and selection of who becomes a house chief and it may not necessarily be because of their family name. However, these house chiefs are referred to as Hereditary Chiefs. Of the Hereditary Chiefs, five oppose CGL. The Hereditary Chiefs represent Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen, not Wet’suwet’en First Nation. Wet’suwet’en First Nation, along with all other 19 elected councils impacted by CGL, support the project.
One of these houses is Dark House. Since 2014, Dark House has been separated into its own file in the consultation record.
Up to the EA Certificate
CGL developed an Aboriginal Consultation Plan which was approved by the EAO in 2013. CGL submitted three consultation reports from May 2013 to July 2014 to show the efforts they went through to meaningfully engage with all Indigenous communities. From 2012 to 2014, CGL consulted with and provided capacity funding to all communities. All communities accepted this funding and all, except Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen, participated in traditional knowledge studies, participated in socio-economic studies and participated in traditional land use studies. The purpose of these studies is to assist in identifying potential cultural, social and economic impacts or benefits as a result of a project. Instead of participating in the studies and submitting traditional knowledge and traditional land use reports, Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen submitted a Rights and Title Report. This report was taken into consideration, along with the three Aboriginal Consultation Reports, when deciding to grant the EA certificate on October 23, 2014.
EA Certificate to Now: The Alternate Route
Near the end of 2014, CGL facilitated an information sharing and intergenerational transfer of traditional and cultural knowledge. In this, 80 Wet’suwet’en members (15 representing houses) participated. Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen did not participate. In this exercise, a culturally important site was identified within Wet’suwet’en territory- something that would typically be reported in a traditional land use study. In April 2015, CGL met with Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and confirmed an alternate route would be of interest.
Since the routing concern was raised, CGL has been consulting with Wet’suwet’en Hereditary and elected leaders, elders and community members on the alternate route to minimize potential adverse effects on Wet’suwet’en’s traditional and cultural use. In 2016, CGL’s field programs for the alternate route included 7,800 hours of participation in 30 biophysical studies by local Indigenous people. Of the five Indigenous groups represented in the field studies, all submitted traditional knowledge and traditional land use reports, except Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen. Wet’suwet’en community members attended biophysical field studies but did not participate on behalf of Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen and Dark House.
From January to July 2019, CGL made 80 attempts to contact Dark House to provide information and talk about Dark House’s concerns. As a result, there were two meetings between Dark House and CGL – one in February and one in March – which focused on access to the Morice River Bridge and resulted in an access agreement. Dark House chose not to discuss any of their other concerns.
From January to July 2019, CGL made 55 attempts to contact Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen. This resulted in two meetings in May that focused on the potential intersection of the right-of-way with the Kweese War Trail. As a result, CGL implemented location-specific mitigation measures to minimize potential adverse effects.
In June 2019, Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen submitted a document with 161 comments to the EAO. The EAO responded to each and identified seven themes including: Aboriginal rights and title; consultation; biophysical-environmental; construction, compliance and conditions; archaeological; and the national inquiry and resulting report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
In comments submitted to the EAO in 2019, Dark House and Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen raised concerns about Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as stated in the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). In a 2019 Dark House submission, “Dark House condemns Coastal Gaslink and its contractors for violating Wet’suwet’en, Provincial and Federal law, and violating the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent.”
What’s important to note is that in 2018, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed FPIC does not mean veto power. As is referenced multiple times throughout the record, CGL made an extraordinary number of attempts to consult with Dark House and Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen and continues to reiterate they are open and willing, and requesting, to discuss concerns and mitigation. The EAO provided the following response to Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen:
“The Province has already committed to adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The consideration of FPIC is required within UNDRIP and the EAO engaged in meaningful consultation with the Indigenous nations regarding Certificate Holder’s Extension Application and attempted to achieve consensus on issues of concern and ultimately the decision to be made, consistent with article 32(2) of UNDRIP.”
Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen and Dark House frequently raise concerns identified in the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which links resource development work-camps and violence against Indigenous women and girls. In response to this significant concern, Coastal GasLink is taking significant steps to ensure the safety and security of their work camps and work sites. These include: a zero-tolerance for possession or use of illegal drugs; a zero-alcohol policy for possession or use of alcohol or cannabis; testing of all workers for drugs and alcohol before they are hired; security guards to enforce rules 24/7; a low-level electrified fence around the perimeter of the camp to avoid human and wildlife interactions; and, security guards at the entrance of the camp to control access at all times.
The deafening message being portrayed is that we are where we are because of inadequate consultation with Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen. As the record shows, there have been nearly eight years of incredible effort by CGL to consult and mitigate concerns with all communities impacted by the project, including Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen. CGL’s and the EAO’s methods of communication aren’t working for Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen, or maybe Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen just doesn’t want to hear what is being said. Either way, something new and something big needs to happen. I’ll leave that to the experts and I’ll continue tracking the results.
Greg Gutowski, RegSync