January 17, 2019
The answer appears to be yes, and no.
In September 2018, TransCanada (now TC Energy) reported it had completed “benefit agreements with all 20 elected First Nations bands” along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route from Dawson Creek to Kitimat. Some news reports at the time noted that the gas line was not enthusiastically supported by all First Nations communities – specifically, the Unist’ot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.
Four-months later, roadblocks in the Unist’ot’en traditional territory have attracted international media attention and hyped rhetoric from both sides. Despite the sensationalist headlines and protests, the matter serves to underscore the communication responsibilities required to successfully negotiate a large mega-project in Northern BC. For First Nations’ communities in the region, the respective roles of hereditary chief and elected chief can be distinct and significant. For some, elected leaders are responsible for the people and all external business affairs of the First Nation. For others, elected officials have no authority over the traditional territories whatsoever.
There’s the quandary. While TC Energy may accurately claim that many of the hereditary chiefs along the pipeline corridor are in favor of the project, the signed agreement reflects it’s relationships with the elected chiefs. For both the company, the Unist’ot’en clan and the entire region this distinction is now a significant issue, and one that won’t be resolved soon despite the potential economic benefits.