B.C. Premier John Horgan and federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller signalled Thursday they’re willing to arrange meetings with the Indigenous groups behind a week of protests that have blocked passenger and freight rail traffic.
In a letter to Gitxsan national hereditary chief Norman Stephens, Horgan said he or a member of his cabinet would meet with him and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs on the condition that they end an ongoing rail blockade which has halted traffic in and out of the Port of Prince Rupert. The B.C. government later said that it would be represented at the meeting by Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser.
The chiefs and their supporters launched the blockade to halt construction of the planned Coastal GasLink pipeline, which will move natural gas through the traditional territory of the West’suwt’en to a massive export terminal near Kitmat, B.C.
Horgan’s letter was drafted in response to a call by Stephens and the West’suwt’en hereditary chiefs for a meeting to put an end to the Coastal GasLink dispute. Earlier this month, RCMP officers arrested activists blocking access to a public forest road near a construction site for the pipeline.
“I confirm our government’s willingness to participate in such a meeting on the basis you propose,” Horgan told Stephens in a letter dated Feb. 12.
“I understand that on receipt of his letter and a similar commitment from Canada, the blockade of the CN line will be removed to allow for a period of calm and peaceful dialogue.”
The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed Thursday that Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett will be on hand for the meeting.
Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller also offered to meet Saturday with the Mohawks of Tyendinaga who have been blocking rail service on a rail line in southern Ontario — one of Canada’s busiest rail corridors.
In return, Miller has asked the Mohawks “to discontinue the protest and barricade of the train tracks as soon as practicable.”
The Mohawk action, launched in response to the now-concluded RCMP raids in B.C. to break the blockade of the Coastal GasLink project, has halted VIA Rail passenger traffic on the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor and forced CN Rail to end freight service on the route.
Miller sent the email just after midnight Thursday to three individuals: activist Kanenhariyo (whose English name is Seth LeFort), Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte Chief Donald Maracle and Assembly of First Nations Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald.
“As you well know, this is a highly volatile situation and the safety of all involved is of utmost importance to me,” Miller wrote in the email.
“I hope you will agree to this request and that we can meet in a spirit of peace and co-operation that should guide our relationship,” Miller said.
The Mohawk demonstrators along the tracks are meeting this morning to discuss how to respond to this offer.
The Ontario Superior Court issued an injunction last Friday prohibiting continued interference with CN Rail’s operations.
The Ontario Provincial Police have told the demonstrators they would be enforcing the injunction. The OPP presence at the protest site had visibly increased by Thursday morning.
Minister calls to renew treaty
CBC News reached Maracle Thursday morning. He said he couldn’t comment until a formal statement was released on the issue.
Archibald also said she couldn’t comment, but that her office would issue a statement in the event the demonstrators stand down.
In the email, Miller said he wanted to renew a 17th century treaty between the Iroquois and European settlers.
“I am writing to confirm what I agreed orally a short while ago: that pursuant to the principles of the Silver Chain Covenant, I hereby agree to polish the Chain with you and the Kanien’kehá:ka of Tyendinaga at a location of your choosing this coming Saturday,” wrote Miller.
The email ends with a sign-off in Mohawk.