While progress appears to have been made on Wet’suwet’en Rights and Title during talks between Wet’uswet’en Chiefs and the BC and Federal government, no parties have changed their position on the Coastal Gas Link pipeline, and the call for solidarity actions remains in place.
Rail protests continued through the weekend with actions across the country, and the construction of a camp at the site of the OPP raid by the Tyendinaga Mohawks. The longstanding Kahnawake Mohawk blockade, and the Listuguj Mi’kmaq blockade also remain firmly in place.
A rally in front of the world’s largest mining convention in Toronto spilled onto the street Sunday with protesters halting traffic, blocking access to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and even getting inside the event before being pushed back by police.
Carrying signs and chanting slogans denouncing resource extraction as harmful to the environment and Indigenous communities, protesters blocked traffic in both directions of Front Street and on nearby Simcoe Street.
A crowd of more than 100 at one point faced a wall of police near the main entrance, with the protest also forcing TTC diversions.
“People here are pretty angry,” said Rachel Small, an activist with event organizer the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network, adding that further disruptions at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention this week.
She said protesters are part of a solidarity movement with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in British Columbia, whose opposition to a pipeline project in their traditional territory has involved road and rail blockades
Rally organizers said many of the companies who provide economic support for the Costal GasLink project also take part in the mining convention.
Main sponsors of the four-day gathering that’s expected to attract more than 25,000 attendees from 132 countries along with 2,500 investors, include Teck Resources which last week withdrew its application to build the Frontier oilsands mine in Alberta.
The Mining Injustice Solidarity Network, which says the rally has been endorsed by more than 50 organizations including the Law Union of Ontario and the Council of Canadians, calls Toronto a global hub for mining project financing and says more than 60 per cent of the world mining companies are headquartered in Canada.
Small added that the mine convention protest gained momentum in the wake of the withdrawal of the Teck proposal and amid talks among Ottawa, B.C. and Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders. Just as Sunday’s protest was getting underway in Toronto, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and senior government ministers announced that they reached a proposed arrangement.
“The tide is turning,” she said. “More and more people are seeing . . . that PDAC and everything it stands for is fundamentally incompatible with the world we need to build.
“From coast to coast we are rising up in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en nation and against colonial violence and land theft,” added Vanessa Gray, Anishinaabe Kwe Land Defender from Aamjiwnaang First Nation.
Toronto Police Operations
Front St & Simcoe St
– reports of demonstrators blocking Front St @ the Metro Toronto Convention Centre
– officers o/s assisting with pedestrian & traffic control
– reports the demonstration is ‘Mining Injustice Solidarity’
– TTC diverted @TTCnotices#GO433359
“It’s clear that Canada is a state built on the removal of Indigenous people for resource extraction,” she told the more than 300 people at the rally.
She said the Canadian government provides “unconditional” support to the mining industry in the form of tax breaks, exploration subsidies, a free-entry tenure system in much of Canada, a climate of corporate impunity and diplomatic pressure towards the creation of “war zones” to secure the area surrounding extractive projects.
“We are in a moment of global ecological crisis, and unchecked resource extraction is a major cause,” said Kirsten Francescone of MiningWatch Canada.
“The extraction and processing of metals and minerals makes up 26 per cent of global carbon emissions. Yet the people who attend PDAC often say that expanding mining is necessary for combating climate change, while avoiding mining’s own disastrous role in rendering the planet uninhabitable.” SOURCE
The climate crisis and peak oil demand are making expensive projects like Alberta’s Teck Frontier look like bad investments.
Everybody in Canada is pointing fingers about Teck Resources cancelling its giant $20 billion open pit tar sands mine. Alberta’s Premier Kenney blames “urban-green-left zealots” and says it will “further weaken national unity.” Temporary leader of the opposition Andrew Scheer blames the Prime Minister, saying, “Justin Trudeau’s inaction has emboldened radical activists” and “Make no mistake: Justin Trudeau killed Teck Frontier.”
But the fact is that it made no economic sense in a world awash in cheap oil; Teck needed $95 a barrel to break even and Canadian oil is selling for $38. Permian Basin oil sells for $50. And who was going to lend Teck $20 billion, when the people who fund these projects are pulling out of the market?
Many have joined Climate Action 100+, “an investor initiative launched in 2017 to ensure the world’s largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters take necessary action on climate change.”
Larry Fink of Black Rock, controlling $7 trillion, recently wrote that “climate change will upend global finance sooner than they might think.” According to Bloomberg, “Mark Carney and Christine Lagarde are once again pushing investors to take the climate crisis seriously and ensure they’re considering the risks from emissions and higher temperatures.”
And now, JPMorgan Chase is warning that climate change is a threat to “human life as we know it.” According to Bloomberg,
“The response to climate change should be motivated not only by central estimates of outcomes but also by the likelihood of extreme events,” bank economists David Mackie and Jessica Murray wrote in a Jan. 14 report to clients. “We cannot rule out catastrophic outcomes where human life as we know it is threatened.”
According to the JP Morgan report leaked to the Guardian, “The climate crisis will impact the world economy, human health, water stress, migration and the survival of other species on Earth.”
Drawing on extensive academic literature and forecasts by the International Monetary Fund and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the paper notes that global heating is on course to hit 3.5C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century… The authors say policymakers need to change direction because a business-as-usual climate policy “would likely push the earth to a place that we haven’t seen for many millions of years”, with outcomes that might be impossible to reverse.
“Although precise predictions are not possible, it is clear that the Earth is on an unsustainable trajectory. Something will have to change at some point if the human race is going to survive.”
JP Morgan is backtracking a bit, telling the BBC that the report was “wholly independent from the company as a whole, and not a commentary on it,” but it is all part of a trend.
“Fossil fuels are done!”
Take that Mad Money guy, Jim Cramer, who is saying “fossil fuels are done.”
“We’re starting to see divestment all over the world. We’re starting to see big pension funds say, ‘listen, we’re not going to own them anymore,’” Cramer said on CNBC. “The world’s changed. There’s new managers. They don’t want to hear whether these are good or bad.”
Cunningham notes that companies are not suddenly getting concerned about sustainability, but see peak oil demand coming with the rise of electric vehicles. “It has become both a moral issue and a financial one.”
“We’re in the death knell phase. I know that’s very controversial. But we’re in the death knell phase,” Cramer warned. “The world has turned on them. It’s actually happening kind of quickly. You’re seeing divestiture by a lot of different funds. It’s going to be a parade that says, ‘Look, these are tobacco. And we’re not going to own them’… “[Oil is now] tobacco. I think they’re tobacco. We’re in a new world.”
I am sorry, but you cannot blame Justin Trudeau for that.
One of the largest utility companies in the U.S. Midwest, Ameren, has announced that it will spend $7.6 billion on a five-year grid modernization plan that includes installing smart meters for its more than 1.2 million customers, adding solar energy and battery storage in rural areas, switching to storm-resilient utility poles and wires, and purchasing 700 megawatts (MW) of wind power, Utility Drive reported.
The initiative, known as the Smart Energy Plan, is the latest expansion of Ameren’s green-energy push. The company, which serves homes and businesses in Missouri and Illinois, announced three years ago that it would retire more than half of its coal-fired generating capacity by the end of 2022. Ameren has already made substantial investments in green energy and energy efficiency programs in Illinois, starting in 2011. The new $7.6 billion program would focus on Missouri
The utility plans to install 120,000 smart meters in Missouri in 2020 and more than 800,000 by 2023, as well as web portals that customers can use to access their energy data, Greentech Media reported. Ameren also aims to purchase 50 MW of solar in Missouri by 2025 and 100 MW by 2027. Lastly, the $7.6 billion strategy includes spending $1 billion for wind energy in 2020.
Missouri currently lags far behind its midwestern neighbors in wind capacity — Illinois has more than 5 gigawatts (GW), Oklahoma has 8 GW, and Iowa has 10 GW. As Ameren prepares to close some of its coal-fired power plants, investments in wind energy could help narrow this gap in electricity generation.
Ameren’s annual earnings have gone up in recent years since launching its green energy initiative — in 2019, the company’s net income was $828 million, up from $815 million in 2018, according to Utility Drive. The utility said the Smart Energy Plan could bring more than 3,000 jobs to Missouri.
“The Smart Energy Plan means investment in state-of-the-art technology, equipment, and controls to reduce outages and restore power faster when they happen,” Ameren Missouri President Marty Lyons said in a statement. “We’ve been able to continue our system upgrades and create significant jobs while lowering rates over the last two years.” SOURCE
As old diesel trains are phased out of rail networks around the world, the UK is about to test a new type of engine that could help to decarbonise railways – hydrogen-powered trains.
From the platform it looked like any other British commuter train. But as several hundred passengers climbed on board the steel-bodied carriages at Long Marston, they were met with an unusual sight. In one of its cars, passengers were encouraged to perch around four hydrogen fuel tanks, a fuel cell and two lithium batteries.
The train’s hydrogen power system produces sufficient power to take the train 50 to 75 miles. The train, called Hydroflex, is the UK’s first to be powered by hydrogen. It was being shown off to the public in June 2019 for the first time on the tracks at the Quinton Rail Technology Centre, a test facility at Long Marston, near Stratford-upon-Avon, in England.
Engineers who developed the new train, from the University of Birmingham and British rail company Porterbrook, wanted passengers to sit alongside the train’s hydrogen fuel cells. The sooner they would become familiar with the technology, the sooner they would feel safe, they reasoned.
The way hydrogen powers a train like the Hydroflex is quite simple. The fuel cell is made up of an anode, a cathode and an electrolyte membrane. The stored hydrogen passes through the anode, where it is split into electrons and protons. The electrons are then forced through a circuit that generates an electric charge that can be stored in lithium batteries or sent directly to the train’s electric motor. The leftover part of the hydrogen molecule reacts with oxygen at the cathode and becomes the waste product – water.
The Hydroflex’s hydrogen tanks, fuel cell and batteries currently sit inside a passenger car, but the ultimate plan is to store them underneath the train in order to fit in more passengers. Hydrogen is of course extremely flammable, but on the Hydroflex it is stored in four secured high-pressure tanks, one of a range of measures to ensure passengers’ safety.
Hydrogen-powered trains like Hydroflex are emissions free – provided their hydrogen comes from a renewable source (Credit: University of Birmingham)
Engineers working on the Hydroflex say that hydrogen-powered trains could be the answer to decarbonising the UK’s rail system without incurring the high cost of electrifying its track. According to an assessment of 20 lines in Britain and mainland Europe, electrifying a single kilometer of track can cost £750,000 to £1m ($965,000 to $1.3m). Hydrogen-powered trains are less expensive, because they don’t require massive track overhauls and they can be created by retrofitting existing diesel trains. This is especially beneficial in rural areas where there are more miles to cover, but fewer passengers to justify the expense.
The German Coradia iLint was the world’s first hydrogen-powered locomotive (Credit: Getty Images)
But hydrogen trains come with their own challenges.
“We store about 20kg of hydrogen, and that is enough to run the fuel cell for three hours,” says Stuart Hillmansen, professor at Birmingham University and leader of the Hydroflex project. As such, longer-distance journeys wouldn’t yet be feasible. Engineers at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Railway Research and Education, Porterbrook’s partner on the Hydroflex, are working on ways to extend these limits.
With our current hydrogen storage technologies, hydrogen takes up significantly more space than equivalent fossil fuels do – Raphael Isaac
And while hydrogen fuel cells can be as energy-efficient as diesel fuel, storing the gas can be a problem. “While hydrogen has a lot of energy per mass, because it is super light, it also takes up a lot of volume,” says Raphael Isaac, a researcher on fuel alternatives in rail at Michigan State University’s Center for Railway Research and Education. “With our current hydrogen storage technologies, hydrogen takes up significantly more space than [equivalent] fossil fuels do.” Even though hydrogen is typically compressed, it’s still not as efficient per unit volume as fossil fuels.
It’s also a space issue on trains. The fuel tanks on the Hydroflex, for example, have to be small enough to fit in an ordinary car that can pass through Victorian-era railway tunnels. These space constraints are one reason that Porterbrook chose to retrofit older train models with the hydrogen fuel power system, rather than construct entirely new vehicles like the Alstom did in Germany – the existing trains were already made to measure for the tunnels they had to pass through.
Hydrogen can be produced using other methods and from renewable energy sources, e.g. electricity from solar photovoltaics and electrolysis of water – Margaret S. Wooldridge
Even though the only direct waste product of hydrogen fuel is water, obtaining this form of power is not necessarily squeaky clean. “The challenge is, at the moment hydrogen is made as a byproduct of chemical processes,” says Helen Simpson, innovation and projects director at Porterbrook. The cheapest and most common method at present uses natural gas and high-temperature steam to produce hydrogen. Hydroflex runs on hydrogen produced from a combination of hydrogen produced using natural gas but its supplier, BOC, says it is looking into renewable options.
In order for hydrogen power to be truly sustainable, other methods of producing it that don’t rely on fossil fuels would need to become mainstream. “Hydrogen can be produced using other methods and from renewable energy sources, e.g. electricity from solar photovoltaics and electrolysis of water,” says Margaret S. Wooldridge, an aerospace engineer at the University of Michigan.
Electrolysis creates hydrogen by separating oxygen from water using an electric current. That current can be created using energy from renewable energy sources, but it has yet to be done outside of small test demonstrations. In order to be a truly green form of travel, the hydrogen would need to be created and stored using renewable energy sources, like off-shore wind farms and solar grids, rather than fossil fuels.
Hydrogen trains have potential to be particularly useful in areas with large distances to cover and lower passenger demand (Credit: Getty Images)
On the flipside, one major benefit of trains like the Hydroflex is their potential as a bi-mode train, meaning they can run on the electrified or conventional lines alike. So even though there is certainly an expense to building new hydrogen-powered trains (one of the Alstrom hydrogen trains costs approximately £5.19m), or retrofitting older ones, they are a flexible alternative while the majority of lines – especially rural ones – are yet to be converted to carry electric-trains.
“This is really the space where hydrogen fuel comes in as a real cost-effective and valuable alternative and delivers a low-carbon railway,” says Simpson. “Where we’ve got all these long routes that don’t have as much passenger demand, the cost-benefit of electrifying the lines isn’t there.”
There are benefits to passengers too. Hydrogen-powered trains, like electric trains, are also incredibly quiet compared to their diesel counterparts. And unlike electric trains, they are more resilient to network-wide disruption. “The shared electric infrastructure means that if there is damage to the infrastructure, the operations of many trains on a line will be impacted,” says Isaac. A hydrogen powered train could switch over to its fuel cells if the electricity lines went down, for example.
There is a huge challenge in terms of developing the infrastructure to supply the hydrogen to the railway – Stuart Hillmansen
In countries where passenger trains are less popular, like the US, the ability to convert freight trains to hydrogen power will be key to making the case for mass producing them. A recent report sponsored by the US Energy Department and Federal Rail Administration notes that while powering freight trains with hydrogen is more technically challenging, it would ultimately have “the highest societal value”. Freight is, however, heavier than passengers, so it would require more hydrogen, or more efficiently compressed hydrogen, to carry the same load the same distance that diesel-fueled freight trains currently manage.
The engineers at Birmingham are currently working on more efficient ways to compress hydrogen, one of several hurdles Hydroflex still has to navigate. “There is a huge challenge in terms of developing the infrastructure to supply the hydrogen to the railway,” says Hillmansen. “This technology exists, but there will need to be an uplift in the scale of these operations.”
But the engineers emphasise that Hydroflex is not just a demonstration of hydrogen-power technology – it is set to become a viable commercial train, with mainline testing expected to begin in March or
April this year. There a long list of approvals the train needs to pass in order to be considered safe for commercial use, but those involved in the project estimate Hydroflex will be fully up and running as soon as two years from now.
Starting March 1, 2020, anyone in the country can simply jump on a train or a bus.
[Photo: Sergey Izotov/iStock]
If you board a train, streetcar, or bus in Luxembourg, beginning on March 1, you’ll no longer pay a fare. The country is among the first to pioneer fully free public transit.
The move aims to help reduce inequality—even though the tiny country is known for its wealth, poverty is increasing. “The objective is to stop the deepening gap between rich and poor,” the country’s mobility and public works minister, François Bausch, told the BBC shortly after the plan was first announced. “For people on low wages, transport expenses matter. Therefore it is easier to make it free for everyone.”
The fares were already relatively inexpensive: a single ticket between any two points in the country cost 2 euros (roughly $2). Many riders also already had free fares—youth under age 20, students under 30, and those who get a “social inclusion income,” a basic monthly benefit payment for the lowest-income households. For that reason, some critics have argued that the change won’t have a meaningful impact; writing in the Conversation, researchers from the University of Luxembourg said that rising housing costs were a far bigger problem, and raised concerns that without ticket fares, the already outdated transit infrastructure would continue to decline.
Still, the agency that operates transit says that fares only covered 10% of its operating costs, and the government is already planning to modernize its rail network and improve connections across borders and between trains, streetcars, and buses. By 2025, it wants to be able to move 20% more people on public transit. It also hopes to lure people out of cars—the country has the highest rate of car ownership in the EU, and 60% of commuters drive to work now, versus less than 20% on public transit. It remains to be seen how much free fares can change that equation, though some similar changes have worked well: When the city of Dunkirk, France, made its own buses free, ridership spiked 60% on weekdays. SOURCE
‘We want some more clarification from the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’
Kenneth Deer is a representative of Kahnawake’s traditional Longhouse political system, and has been acting as a spokesperson for the activists at the blockade. (CBC)
Mohawk activists in Kahnawake, south of Montreal, will maintain their rail barricade for the time being, despite the proposed agreement that was reached Sunday between government officials and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in British Columbia.
“We want some more clarification from the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs before we make a decision,” said Kenneth Deer, a representative of Kahnawake’s traditional Longhouse political system who has been acting as a spokesperson for the activists at the blockade.
“It’s a big decision to decide to take down the barricade or not, and they want to make sure they have everything before they make that decision,” Deer told reporters at the barricade Sunday afternoon, where Mohawk flags flew from a tent and pointed wooden shelter protected by low concrete barriers.
Deer, who said he’s been in contact with hereditary chiefs, said good things came out of the meeting in B.C., as well as “some things that were not so good.”
He said the agreement includes discussions on who are custodians of the land, as well as a recognition of the hereditary chiefs, which he described as “significant.”
“However, the pipeline is not resolved, and that’s a very big issue, not only for the Wet’suwet’en chiefs but for everybody,” he said.
The barricade in Kahnawake went up Feb. 8 in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who are opposed to a pipeline project slated to go through their ancestral territory.
A judge granted an injunction against the Kahnawake barricade last week, but is has not been enforced.
Earlier on Sunday, representatives of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, and the federal and British Columbian governments announced they had reached a deal aimed at resolving the dispute, which led to countrywide rail blockades.
Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and British Columbia Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser would not give details on the proposed arrangement, saying it first has to be reviewed by the Wet’suwet’en people.
Wet’suwet’en hereditary leader says they remain opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline
Wet’suwet’en hereditary leader Chief Woos, centre, also known as Frank Alec, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, left, and B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser address the media in Smithers, B.C. The senior government ministers have been negotiating with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs since Thursday. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)
A Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief and senior government ministers say they have reached a proposed arrangement to acknowledge land title rights established more than 20 years ago in a Supreme Court decision.
The parties agree the proposal is an important step in discussions related to a natural gas pipeline dispute that has prompted solidarity protests across Canada in recent weeks. But the parties still disagree on how to move forward with the controversial pipeline.
Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and British Columbia Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser would not give details on the proposed arrangement, saying it first has to be reviewed by the Wet’suwet’en people.
BREAKING: Wet’suwet’en chiefs, federal and B.C. ministers reach proposed arrangement in pipeline dispute http://cbc.ca/1.5481681
Recognizing rights over traditional territory
Chief Woos, one of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders, said the proposal represents an important milestone to recognize the rights of the hereditary leaders over their traditional territory.
“This is where it starts. The duty to consult as well as the rights and title,” Woos said.
The announcement comes as talks between the hereditary chiefs and the ministers entered a fourth day.
WATCH | Chiefs and ministers announce an arrangement:
Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Woos says a new ‘arrangement’ with senior government ministers will create a ‘better outlook’ for disputes that occur on traditional territory. 1:00
1997 landmark ruling
Fraser said “it was an interesting and powerful three days.”
Protocol on how to work with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs should have been developed 23 years ago, Fraser said, when the 1997 Delgamuukw decision acknowledged Aboriginal land title and set a precedent for how it is understood in Canadian courts.
The decision stemmed from a 1984 case launched by the leaders of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en First Nations, who took the provincial government to court to establish jurisdiction over 58,000 square kilometres of land and water in northwest British Columbia.
Coastal GasLink, the company building the pipeline, did sign agreements with representatives from 20 First Nations for the pipeline, including Wet’suwet’en elected band councils. The project was subsequently approved by the provincial government.
But Wet’suwet’en are governed by both a traditional hereditary chief system and elected band councils, and many of the hereditary leaders oppose the pipeline and say the company should not have been allowed to build it without their consent.
WATCH | Bennett discusses details behind the arrangement:
Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Woos says a new ‘arrangement’ with senior government ministers will create a ‘better outlook’ for disputes that occur on traditional territory. 1:00
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett says rights holders ‘will always have a seat at the table’ when it comes to future discussions about land rights and title. 0:39
Still opposed to pipeline
Woos said the hereditary leaders remain opposed to the pipeline.
He warned developers that the hereditary leaders will continue to protect their waters, wildlife habitats and traditional sites with “everything we have.”
“As Wet’suwet’en, we are the land and the land is ours,” he said. “We’re not going to look at any alternative ways.”
Fraser said the tentative land and title arrangement would not be retroactive on the pipeline issue, and the parties remained in disagreement about how to move forward.
“The project that’s in place, it has been permitted and it’s underway,” he said.
Coastal GasLink issued a statement Sunday to say it “appreciates” that Wet’suwet’en title and rights have been identified, but that the company has permits in place and it intends to resume construction activities on Monday.
Bennett said the proposed arrangement will honour the protocols of the Wet’suwet’en people and clans.
Lawyer Peter Grant, who represented the Wet’suwet’en and neighbouring Gitxsan First Nation, said the proposal is not a treaty. “It’s a draft arrangement, but I think it’s very powerful,” he said. SOURCE
Nipissing First Nation chief and council is signalling its support for the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the construction of a natural gas pipeline through their traditional territory in British Columbia. Michael Lee/The Nugget
Nipissing First Nation chief and council are slamming the “mainstream media” for misrepresenting Indigenous nations and voices in the ongoing dispute over a natural gas pipeline in British Columbia opposed by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
In a statement posted on the Nipissing First Nation website Thursday, chief and council say “it can be difficult to distinguish facts from rhetoric and truth from hidden agendas” in light of the “barrage of information” from social media and the misrepresentation from mainstream media.
They also point to the 1997 Supreme Court of Canada ruling which said the Wet’suwet’en people, as represented by their hereditary leaders, had not given up rights and title to their 22,000-square-kilometre territory.
“Nipissing First Nation stands in solidarity with the people of Wet’suwet’en who are protecting their traditional territory from infringement. We must show support not only for the rights of the Wet’suwet’en people, but also to affirm our own rights to govern and protect our lands,” the statement says.
The show of support from Nipissing First Nation comes as Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs were set to meet for a second day with senior federal and provincial ministers Friday to discuss the Coastal GasLink pipeline project in B.C.
Demonstrations and rail disruptions have escalated in recent weeks following the arrests earlier this month of hereditary chiefs and their supporters after the RCMP enforced a court injunction, granted to Coastal GasLink, that called for the removal of any obstructions from roads, bridges or work sites the company has been authorized to use in Wet’suwet’en territory.
Two rallies have since taken place in North Bay in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
Coastal GasLink also has agreed to a two-day pause in its activities in northwestern B.C. and the RCMP has committed to ending patrols along a critical roadway while the negotiations unfold.
Nipissing First Nation chief and council, meanwhile, say Canada is breaking its own rule of law and has yet to ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
They add that the support shown across the country, and even globally, is evidence that many people who have taken the time to inform themselves understand the injustices Indigenous people face.
“Nipissing First Nation’s leadership supports our Wet’suwet’en family’s sovereign right to self-determination, including the right to govern and protect their lands. They need the time and space to move forward with a unified voice in whatever direction they choose to take,” they said.
“What we’ve seen from mainstream media and Canada’s leadership is alarming and distressing. It’s an example of reconciliation at its worst, and colonization at its best. This is not just about pipelines. Indigenous people deserve better.”
Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Glen Hare, meanwhile, is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to meet with the hereditary chiefs and come to a “peaceful and respectful resolve” together.
In a statement, Hare said the events unfolding harken back to September 1995 when protesters occupied Ipperwash Park and unarmed protester Anthony “Dudley” George was killed by an Ontario Provincial Police sniper.
He also highlighted other longstanding issues — 25-year boil water advisories in Ontario and Canada’s decision to challenge the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal compensation ruling for First Nations children, youth and families — calling them not just First Nations issues, but human rights issues.
“We understand that some of our citizens are participating in protests and we hold the health and safety of First Nation citizens in the highest regard,” he said. “We urge citizens not to engage or dialogue with those making racist comments or who are exhibiting harassing behaviour.” SOURCE
Butch Dennis, 53, is a Wet’suwet’en who belongs to the Gitumden clan and Witset Band. His business has a dozen First Nations employees doing contract work for Coastal GasLink. DAVID CARRIGG
WITSET, B.C. — Fifty-three-year-old Butch Dennis drives slowly along a frozen road in the Witset First Nation village, stopping to acknowledge two kids who are watching a lucky friend motor about on a pint-sized snowmobile.
“Look at the little guy here on the Ski-Doo, eh,” says Dennis, a Wet’suwet’en from the Gitumden clan who moved to Witset (also known as Moricetown) at age 15. “This is the future right here.”
Dennis knows everyone in every home: What clan they belong to, their clan house and whether they are working.
He is proud of the reserve, and happy to point out its many band-owned and -operated features. A new health centre, a freshly paved road, seniors’ programs, a child-care facility, a learning centre, a sawmill, a gas bar, a firehall, a museum, an RV park and, soon, a tax-free cannabis retail store.
“I think we have a pretty awesome reserve,” he says. “We have a firehall, we have clean running water, we have programs to learn our language and we have meal programs for the youth and the elders. The elders get free cut firewood.”
On the other side of Highway 16, beyond the Wet’suwet’en cemetery, is a totem pole erected in 1956 by Dennis’s grandfather David to defy the Canadian government. Unlike his grandfather, who died in 1986 at age 108, Dennis has stayed away from political statements and adheres to the Wet’suwet’en way of allowing only those permitted to speak to speak.
But as the Wet’suwet’en pipeline crisis deepens, with five chiefs from a neighbouring band and territory arrested recently for blocking a rail line, Dennis wants to be heard.
His decision comes as the 5,000-strong Wet’suwet’en try to make sense of the polarization of their community, between elected and hereditary leaders, and within clans and households over an issue that has been brewing for years.
On Feb. 24, the same day 23 people were arrested at three B.C. blockades and more blockades appeared in Quebec and Ontario, Dennis raised a Canadian flag on a pole beside his smokehouse.
“The (hereditary) chief’s office need to be accountable to the people and not rule everything with an iron fist,” he says. “I love this country. Not everyone wants to tear it apart.”
The bridge at the centre of the storm
The physical centre of the Canada-wide pipeline fight is a 40-metre steel bridge over the Wedzinkwa (Morice) River, 66 kilometres up the Morice River Forest Service Road, about a 90-minute drive from Houston.
On one side of the bridge is the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre and on the other is a newly vacated RCMP checkpoint. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs demanded the police leave as a condition before they began meeting with the federal and provincial ministers on Thursday.
The bridge is the farthest point up the road that the RCMP have arrested Wet’suwet’en members opposed to the 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline.
The natural gas pipeline is expected to run beneath the bridge as it snakes its way through a forbidding landscape from Dawson Creek to Kitimat to fuel the $40-billion LNG Canada export plant, which is under construction. The pipeline is supposed to be complete in the fall of 2023 and the LNG plant is expected to start exports in 2025.
It should be no surprise to the Wet’suwet’en, to Coastal GasLink, or to both levels of government that this crisis has emerged.
According to an affidavit filed by a former Indigenous relations co-ordinator for Coastal GasLink, the company has tried unsuccessfully for seven years to get the Unist’ot’en House and the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, which represents the 12 other houses, to agree to its pipeline and accept a benefits package.
Coastal GasLink learned that Unist’ot’en House was responsible for its own negotiations through a letter sent Feb. 26, 2013, from the Office of the Wet’suwet’en stating that it did not formally represent “Dark House a.k.a. Unist’ot’en from the Gilseyhu clan.”
The Office of the Wet’suwet’en is a non-profit formed in the mid-1990s as hereditary chiefs and elders from the Wet’suwet’en Nation and neighbouring Gitxsan Nation fought and won a landmark Supreme Court of Canada case that acknowledged they had never ceded their rights to 22,000 square kilometres of territory and formally recognized the Wet’suwet’en hereditary system and laws.
It was that ruling that led to Coastal GasLink approaching the hereditary chiefs. When that failed the company began approaching the bands.
The Office of the Wet’suwet’en, which is a welcoming space in the heart of downtown Smithers, was then tasked with securing a treaty with the government and at one point comprised the 13 hereditary house chiefs and the elected chiefs of the six Wet’suwet’en band councils. The band chiefs play no role now and there are no treaty talks underway.
The Wet’suwet’en traditional lands are divided among five clans, and within those clans are a total of 13 houses. Each house has a chief and one or more wing chiefs.
There are no head chiefs in four of those houses. The Beaver House position has been empty for at least 20 years and House Beside the Fire for 15 years.
Of the nine hereditary chiefs in place, six are strongly opposed to the pipeline and have been since Coastal GasLink first made overtures to offer a benefits agreement. Those chiefs are John Risdale (Na’moks), Alphonse Gagnon (Kloum Khun), Jeff Brown (Madeek), Frank Alec (Woos), Warner Naziel (Smogelgem) and Fred Tom (Gisday’wa).
Former Chief Woos was Roy Morris, who died in 2011 and was part of the hereditary chief group that won Aboriginal title rights after appealing two decisions in the Delgamuukw land rights case.
Longtime Chief Ron Mitchell (Hagwilnegh) is neutral, while Herb Naziel (Samooh) works for Coastal GasLink and is in favour of the pipeline.
Chief Warner William, despite his Dark House/Unist’ot’en House being at the centre of the fight, remains neutral while his wing chief Freda Huson — who established the Unist’ot’en healing centre in 2009, originally as an anti-pipeline checkpoint — is now the spiritual leader of the fight against Coastal GasLink and speaks for the house.
Huson was also a two-term councillor on the Witset First Nation band council, losing her post in 2017 when a pro-pipeline slate took control. She has a good reputation among the Witset and was credited with getting Witset’s gas bar off the ground.
The 2013 letter to Coastal GasLink warned that while the Office of the Wet’suwet’en would not negotiate on behalf of the Unist’ot’en House, its “members occupy their territories to monitor and protect their lands from development that is not consistent with their values. … The Unist’ot’en are well within their rights and jurisdiction to occupy and protect their lands as they see fit.”
Of the five hereditary chiefs who signed that letter, three are still chiefs — Brown, Risdale and Naziel.
Risdale is the chief who speaks on behalf of the Office of the Wet’suwet’en and is a point person for the federal and provincial governments’ continuing efforts to try to get the office to support the pipeline.
The Wet’suwet’en have in the past united to resist the Enbridge bitumen pipeline and at least one coal-mining venture.
A community divided
The community divide falls into three categories.
There are Wet’suwet’en who are working for or benefiting from multimillion-dollar agreements Coastal GasLink has signed with five of six Wet’suwet’en bands and are in favour because of that, and therefore oppose the protests.
There are also those within the hereditary system who are upset with how three hereditary chiefs got elected after the three female chiefs who formed a sub group in 2015 to try to strike a deal between the Office of the Wet’suwet’en and Coastal GasLink were deposed.
There are also complaints that house chiefs are making decisions without consulting house members in the traditional manner and that people without authority are speaking on behalf of the Wet’suwet’en.
Lucy Gagnon, executive director of the Witset (Moricetown) First Nation, is caught between these two worlds.
While responsible for managing the band council’s agreement with Coastal GasLink, she is married to hereditary chief Alphonse Gagnon.
“It’s really hard for me because my husband is anti-pipeline,” Gagnon said in her office at the Witset First Nation. “In my house, we just don’t talk about it because our marriage is more important than anything that happens out there. I don’t need war in my house.”
She said the percentage of people for or against the pipeline varies from clan to clan and house to house.
“There’s people who won’t disclose if they are for or against,” Gagnon said. “It may be 50-50, but in my clan there is more anti than pro. And my husband’s is the same way. But then you will have a house group that’s more for it. It’s all over the map.”
So as the battle goes on, Gagnon meets in her office with Trevor Morrison, a wing chief in a neighbouring Gitxsan Nation house and also senior general manager of Kyah Development Corporation — the Witset company that operates all band businesses.
Between them they manage the two tiers of pipeline funding laid out in a confidential agreement signed between the band and Coastal GasLink on May 10, 2018.
Witset was the last and largest of five Wet’suwet’en bands (created under the federal Indian Act) that have signed agreements and is the farthest north. The others are the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, Burns Lake Band, Nee Tahi Buhn Band and Skin Tyee Nation.
Gagnon said the previous band council was opposed to the pipeline, however, an election in August 2017 elected a new band council that was in favour.
The only Wet’suwet’en-related band that did not sign on with Coastal GasLink was the Hagwilget First Nation. In August, 2019, an anti-pipeline band council was elected, forcing the former chief of 35 years to step aside.
Gagnon could not reveal how much money the Witset has received from Coastal GasLink. However, a tentative deal that was struck with the former band council, but was not signed, offered $6 million in three payments.
Gagnon said the band received its first payment when the agreement was signed and those monies were used to pave Beaver Road, between the Witset gas bar and Highway 16, a stretch of about three kilometres.
A second payment was received after LNG Canada made a final investment decision and committed to the project, thereby ensuring it needed the Coastal GasLink pipeline built.
Gagnon said those monies have been placed in a GIC with a bank and the interest would be used to pay for skills training for band members.
While direct benefits for all 20 First Nations bands that have signed up with Coastal GasLink is expected to be around $338 million, twice that much is expected to flow into those communities through direct contracts with First Nations businesses — like that between Coastal GasLink and a joint venture between Kyah Development Corporation and the privately owned Kyah Resources Inc.
Troy Young is a Wet’suwet’en from the Tsayu clan whose great grandmother was Lucy Holland, a former hereditary chief Na’moks. The chief names go with a territory, so successive chiefs take the same name.
Young is also the owner of Kyah Resources and has about 50 First Nations workers getting on-the-job experience, which he says will be crucial to them securing jobs when the pipeline is done in three to five years.
His contract with Kyah Development is for road building and path clearing west from Houston to the Icy Pass, where Haisla Nation contractors will take over. They have to build a bridge and facilitate construction of a 1,000-person work camp.
“In Witset, you have multi-generational unemployment and we now have guys who are getting off social security. It’s life-changing,” he said.
“If we know it’s only a three- to five-year window, we want people trained so when jobs come up elsewhere in the province they are work ready, they have a couple of thousand hours on the machines, that they can demonstrate they have worked on the job. It looks good on a resumé. This isn’t going to last forever, but the skills will translate to elsewhere.”
For Witset band member Bill van Tunen, getting work with Young came just at the right time, as he needed work that was not as hard on his body and is now building up hours of experience operating heavy machinery.
“This is going to open doors for me,” said van Tunen, who is also a farmer and hunting guide.
He said he was surprised by the culture at the Kyah Resources work site — one of respect and inclusion.
Dennis is also providing work for about a dozen Wet’suwet’en through his contracting business, which is providing flagging, labour and tree falling services.
“A lot of our people are getting training, pipeline training in Prince George, and machine operators are getting all these tickets you need,” he said. “For a young person that hasn’t done nothing like this before, now they are going to have to get all these tickets. This is new to them and we have to do this to young people, to groom and train them because they are going to be the workforce when we get older.”
Seeking a way forward
Young and Gagnon hope the pipeline impasse can be dealt with in the Feast Hall, the centre of Wet’suwet’en culture, where decisions about family and business are made according to a strict set of rules.
“Jumping and screaming is not our way,” said Gagnon. “We are very respectful in the Feast Hall. There have been many issues that we have dealt with in the Feast Hall and maybe that is the place for this. They just have to get talking. It’s complex, but we will get through this. It just may take a while.”
Young said he was frustrated because his clan was represented by Na’moks, but he said Na’moks was not talking to his clan members. Young told Postmedia News that he had received permission from his clan elders to speak publicly. Na’moks did not return calls.
“Last week, I see my house chief proclaiming in the media that an all-clans meeting was called for the next day, and only certain people could speak,” Young wrote in a prepared statement. “This is not our law. Our house chiefs are not our dictators. Each house chief is supposed to do what the house members agree upon and tell him through our matriarchs, elders and wing chiefs, not tell us what we are going to do.
“Some chiefs have not been holding house meetings open to all, so the decisions made in these meetings do not hold weight. Our chiefs don’t get to hand pick who they invite to house meeting. Each chief holds equal power in the hall, and this has been forgotten. Being the clan spokesperson doesn’t give more power over the other chiefs, and this has been forgotten.”
Young said that unlike Metro Vancouver First Nations — the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh — the Wet’suwet’encannot rely on leasing out land to raise money.
“That’s not an option for Wet’suwet’en people. We have natural resources such as forestry, mining and fishing, all of which are in a downturn right now. Tourism and high-tech have been suggested, but we haven’t witnessed anyone in this area make a viable business in these sectors that would create the employment levels for Witset.”
Butch Dennis does what is within his power to help his community. He cuts firewood for elders, clears dangerous trees and works at keeping bears away from the reserve.
He also clears snow so mourners can access the Wet’suwet’en cemetery.
“If you are Wet’suwet’en, you will be buried here,” said Dennis, looking over the snow-covered field of crosses and headstones.
The cemetery plays a key role in the community, and if you die off the reserve you will be brought back for burial if possible.
Dennis knows there is a split in the community, but also that the Wet’suwet’en are all connected and will always be.
He casts an eye to his grandfather’s stone.
“We all come back here together, one way or another. You can’t always get what you want.” SOURCE