A rail blockade in Chase has been lifted for four days, conditional on the prime minister’s direct involvement in discussions with Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders.
Protesters involved in the blockade, set up directly across from the Neskonlith Hall in Chase on Thursday, Feb. 20, said CP Rail police brought a cell phone for them to speak directly with CP’s executive director. Negotiations ended later that evening and the blockade was cleared from the tracks at midnight.
Protesters said if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau does not begin a dialogue with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders they will be back on the tracks in four days.
Following the negotiations, CP’s president and CEO Keith Creel released a letter, calling for the prime minister’s immediate response to the blockades. Creel went on to say the Chase blockade severed rail access connecting the Port of Vancouver with the North American supply chain and the Canadian economy.
“I support the offer made today by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to move their officers away from the area where the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have been opposing a pipeline on their traditional territory,” wrote Creel.
Hereditary leaders in the Shuswap have created a blockade on the train tracks across from the Neskonlith Band office in Chase. Protestors say the blockade was created in support of the wet'suwet'en protest in Northern B.C. pic.twitter.com/ntqfFj6dt7
— Cameron Thomson (@CameronJHT) February 20, 2020
Protests at the Unist’ot’en Camp in Wet’suwet’en territory are focused on the proposed 670 kilometre pipeline that is expected to move natural gas from Dawson Creek to the newly-approved LNG Canada export facility near Kitimat.
Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with 20 elected First Nations along the pipeline’s route, but Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say the company has no authority without their consent.
Anushka Azadi, a protester at the Chase blockade on Thursday, is eager to see conversations move ahead but believes the issue to be far from over.
“We’re very happy with this response but only for the moment are we happy,” said Azadi. “This is a very, very long conversation that Canada is supposed to have had with their Indigenous populations for years.
“This is a conversation that is overdue.”
Azadi, who was in contact with Wet’suwet’en and Mohawk nation leaders for much of Thursday, said the protest goals are clear: RCMP and CGl withdraw from their territory and continue nation to nation dialogue.
Azadi highlighted there are larger issues at play than the proposed pipeline.
“This is not just about Wet’suwet’en, it’s not just about the railroad tracks, it’s not just one thing, this is a very old conversation that Canada hasn’t had with its Indigenous nations,” she said.
In Ottawa also on Thursday, North Okanagan Shuswap MP Mel Arnold addressed the house speaking about the blockade.
“[The trains] carry all sorts of goods that keep this economy going, such as the grain trains. Saskatchewan will not be able to get its products to market. How can this continue to go on?” Arnold said.
Justin Trudeau has promised a full account of his government’s work to clear the blockades in a press conference this afternoon.