Millroy: The Wet’suwet’en are split on the pipeline.


I have often wondered when it comes to protests that spring up in one place and then, assuming virus-like qualities, move on across the country, if all those who come late to the party really know what they are protesting against.

It is a thought I couldn’t shake, not that I wanted to, when I started researching the present protest by the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in B.C. that has now gotten support across Canada, including here in Sault Ste. Marie.

The hereditary Chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline that is to run through Wet’suwet’en territory, as well as through reserves and territory that is not Wet’suwet’en, from Dawson Creek to LNG Canada’s $40-billion export facility in Kitimat, B.C. They also have the support of one band within their territory.

But five bands on reserves in Wet’suwet’en territory and 15 outside it along the route have benefit agreements with LNG that they believe would greatly help their communities, where work for many is scarce.

Looking at this scenario, to me it seems to put the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs at odds with their own people..

Yet they seem to have garnered support of First Nations people all across the country. No one seems to have come to the support of those on the other side, the members of the bands that will benefit from the pipeline.

The CBC’s Rex Murphy essentially called out the news media for not doing their job, not telling us what the other side was saying and not telling us more about those across the country who were offering support to the hereditary chiefs.

It may not have been a result of Murphy’s criticism, but David Carrigg of the National Post did interviews with members of a Wet’suwet’en band that did give a different perspective.
He reported on the benefits many see and appreciate that the pipeline project has brought.
He quoted Butch Dennis, 53, a Wet’suwet’en who belongs to the Gitumden clan and Witset Band and has a business that has a dozen First Nations employees doing contract work for Coastal GasLink, as saying:

“The (hereditary) chief’s office needs 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.”
Others who also see the benefits being reaped are also quoted but Carrigg also captures the turmoil within the Wet’suwet’en themselves as they 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.

I thought one case in particular really spelled out what the community is facing with its feet seemingly in two worlds

Lucy Gagnon, executive director of the Witset (Moricetown) First Nation, is caught between the two.

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 told Carrigg 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 the 5,000-strong Wet’suwet’en can’t decide among themselves which way they should go.

Yet the hereditary chiefs have set up camps in an attempt to block the pipeline and across the country First Nations have come to their support, in many instances in ways that may have the intention of getting the attention of those in high places but also have the side effect of ticking off the Canadian public.

These stands are going to have far-lasting effects on our economy and that includes for many indigenous people.

Teck Resources Ltd. recently announced it would withdraw its application to build the largest oilsands mine in Alberta’s history. The company’s chief executive, Don Lindsay, was quoted in the Financial Post as blaming politics, not economics, for the project’s demise.

He said the proposed Frontier oilsands mine had become a lightning rod for the political controversies of the day, including climate change policies and Indigenous rights.

“The project has landed squarely at the nexus of a much broader national discussion on energy development, Indigenous reconciliation and, of course, climate change. We are stepping back to allow Canada to have this important discussion without a looming regulatory deadline for just one project.”

Fourteen bands were going to benefit from this project. Some expressed disappointment at its failure. Environmentalists, of course, were overjoyed.

Even though we are not ready to go totally with sustainable resources, they would take the leap.

Do those shutting done rail lines and  blocking other commerce, consider what could result from their actions?

Did they give any thought to the other side, the First Nations bands who favour the pipeline?
Or are they just supporting the hereditary chiefs over those with democratically elected councils because they just want something to protest.

The Wet’suwet’en are split on the pipeline. They should be left to work out the problem themselves without others taking sides.


  1. As a voting delegate at the annual general assembly of the Congress of Aboriginal People in 2008 It was decided & agreed that.. We are the “Woodland Métis Tribe of Ontario”.

    With over 70,000 members across the province.. we understand the struggles of & stand with the Wet’suwet’en people & the pipeline supporters. For too long the voices of our people have been disregarded for the opinions of a token few.

    These are important decisions being made behind closed doors without the support or consent of the people.. by people, who obviously do not care or understand the underpinnings of ‘Self-Governance’.

    Since time immemorial our people have fought hard to keep & maintain our sovereign right to govern ourselves, our land & our resources. We must continue to honor the traditions or our ancestors, our grandfathers & our grandmothers are watching.

    A Metis’ Prayer.

    “Li Bon Jeu, not Createur, li kourawzh miyinawn, paray chee itayhtamawhk, kwayesh
    kapimouhtayhk, marsee chee itwayawhk ka kishcheetayimoyawhk.”

    God, Our Creator, give us courage, let us be of one mind, make us righteous, thankful and proud

    Migwetch / Thank-you.

  2. On it’s surface the whole statement was racially geared to make a point and lecture to the pig-mentally challenged of our fine city using the finest of choice cuts of politically correct word salad terminologies to say “it’s you”, where the problem lays. Gringo

    Welcome to the new world of others can have an opinion but if you voice opposition to anything other than that opinion, YOU GET DELETED!

  3. My understanding, and I believe the majority of pipeline protesters seemed oblivious to this, is that the majority number of Hereditary Chiefs who are against the pipeline fashioned their majority through the summary deposing of three of their peers – removing their status as Hereditary Chiefs. This is coup like, is it not? From what I have read and seen in the media, these (female) deposed chiefs weren’t exactly in agreement of being stripped of their titles. So, do we have a true dissenting majority of Hereditary Chiefs, or a group whose bullied away those who favour the pipeline?. I suppose that’s one way to control things. What am I missing? I don’t speak for the Wet’suwet’en tribes, clans and houses, but it seems to me that they are victim to a rather authoritarian practice. I was waiting to hear from feminists regarding this maltreatment of indigenous women, but I heard crickets instead. Even our PM, who identifies as a feminist, didn’t address the matter. Regarding the matter in general: according to Jagmeet Singh, NDP leader who spoke in parliament, indigenous stakeholders wanted to meet with the PM in January regarding this matter. Perhaps if that had transpired, things could have been nipped in the bud before it escalated into a national crisis.

  4. I find it interesting that the other article today where city and the two FN met at Batchewana the meeting outcome highlite was how racism must be addressed and two way respect and understanding . I left a simple comment there on that article that stated ” I agree 100% and that one way to show respect for us is to not block Hwy 17 “……end of quote. Now that comment lasted less than 30 minutes, sadly it shows how media is not even allowing simple plain language without racism, from the 95 percent of population that is having its voice censured instead of attempting to understand our point of view.

  5. Good example is Hwy 17 east thru Garden River and the many jobs during building of it and continued maintainance jobs now for FN people.

  6. ALSO why do First Nations across Turtle Island support one and not the other? Our teachings tell us to protect Mother Earth. Pipeline isnt protecting, its killing.

  7. After learning that the hereditary chiefs proposed 3 alternate routes that would be less enviromentally/ ecological damaging…and all were rejected by the company because they would be more costly and take somewhat more time to build, I sided with the hereditary chiefs. I’m tired of the environment being harmed because of financial expediency.

    • Karen McPhee Grant there are hundreds of pipelines. You’re telling us one is ecologically damaging? Ouf, maybe you should look at what a pipeline looks like first

      • Pipelines deliver natural gas safely all over the world including people like Karen’s house. Selling Natural Gas liquified to China is much better than China using more coal.

    • “can” build jobs. “Can” be easily taken care of. Of the thousands of pipelines world wide, none “can” accommodate hysterical thinking. Hysteria is a Canadian developed disease

    • Josh Gauthier yada, yada, yada. All it takes is once. It boils down to this…3 alternate routes through less sensitive areas and the company declined to use any of them because it would cost more and take a little longer. Profits are their ethos and will always outweigh ecological & environmental factors.

  8. If your neighbours and family want a new highway, part of which runs through your ancestral home, would you oppose it? Assuming, of course, that you wanted to keep your home. Also, Doug, “virus-like,” is a troubling simile.

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