District of Squamish council will remain silent on Wet'suwet'en protests | Squamish Chief

District of Squamish council will remain silent on Wet'suwet'en protests

Council debated whether to issue a statement in support of the national demonstrations

District of Squamish council will remain quiet when it comes to the protests in support of the Wet'suwet'en Nation's hereditary chiefs.

On Feb. 18, council debated the matter after receiving a letter from a member of the public. The letter, written by Nicholas Gottlieb, urged elected officials to issue a statement in support of the Nation.

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Across the country, protests in support of the Wet'suwet'en Nation have flooded city streets, and, in some cases, shut down rail lines.

The federal minister of Crown-Indigenous relations has been trying to set up a meeting with the hereditary chiefs of the Nation, but at least one of the chiefs said no meeting will be granted until the RCMP leave their territory.

The chiefs have said the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which crosses their territory in northern B.C., is illegal. However, elected Nation councils have supported the project.

Earlier this month, in accordance with a court injunction, RCMP started forcing demonstrators in northern B.C. to stop their blockade. In response, protests erupted accross the country.

"The treatment of the Wet'suwet'en nation has laid bare the other piece of our deep hypocrisy," reads the letter Gottlieb sent to council.

"The federal and provincial governments talk about reconciliation, implementation of [the] UN [Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] (which has passed in B.C.), and more, but at the exact same time, they use a militarized police force to remove Indigenous people from their land to make way for this pipeline."

During District council's meeting, elected officials voted 5-2 in favour of receiving the Gottlieb's letter for information rather than issuing a statement in support of the Wet'suwet'en.

Councillors Chris Pettingill and Jenna Stoner were the dissenting votes. They were in favour of issuing a statement that would condemn the use of police force in the Nation's territory.

Coun. Doug Race said it would be best to not comment, as much of the controversy, in his view, stems from the Wet'suwet'en's governance issues.

"Unfortunately that particular issue. which is internal to the Wet'swet'en, has been hijacked by some other people with different agendas," said Race.

Coun. Eric Andersen said the District is too removed from the issue to comment on the matter.

"There's so much potential for real interference, so we're just too far away from that complexity," said Andersen.

Mayor Karen Elliott said that these issues should be solved through dialogue, not force.

"At the same time, if you're not on the ground and not talking to the players, I think it's very difficult to pass a motion that walks that line," said Elliott.

On the other hand, Pettingill recommended making a statement focusing only on the police action, rather than the Nation's governance.

"Do we feel comfortable as part of a colonial government, [a] colonial system using armed force to impose ...our decision on the Wet'suwet'en?" said Pettingill.

"I think the way that settlers have proceeded when there has been a dispute is not at all appropriate —  there are other ways to resolve conflict."

Coun. Jenna Stoner supported Pettingill's idea.

Stoner noted a recent letter to council shows that the province has authorized municipal police forces to be deployed to support RCMP operating in Wet'suwet'en territory.

The letter Stoner refers to is from Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth. In it, he said the resistance to the Coast GasLink pipeline near Houston in northern B.C. constitutes a "provincial emergency."

"I am authorizing the internal redeployment of resources within the provincial police service to the extent necessary to maintain law and order," wrote Farnworth on Jan. 27.

"This authorized temporary redeployment is inclusive of B.C. municipal police service resources."

Farnworth, however, asks that all provincial police resources should be depleted before authorities start asking municipal officers to redeploy.

"I think it does potentially have an impact on our municipality and how our [police] forces are deployed within our community," said Stoner.

"And so, from that perspective, I would be supportive of writing a resolution to some extent, with respect to reducing, or with respect to not allowing RCMP forces to withdraw Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs from their unceded territory."

Other municipalities have considered such a resolution.

The Times Colonist reports Victoria's council voted 6-1 last month to endorse a declaration calling on the provincial and federal governments to take action to "end any attempt at forced removal of the Wet'suwet'en People from their traditional territories."

In Squamish, Pettingill later tried to pass a motion that would ask a qualified educator to brief District council on the Wet'suwet'en situation, and perhaps provide advice on an appropriate response.

This was defeated in a 5-2 vote. Coun. Armand Hurford was the only other councillor who supported Pettingill for that motion.

The rest argued that resources would be best spent improving relations with local First Nations such as the Squamish Nation.

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