Today, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and the provincial and federal governments have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that recognizes Wet’suwet’en rights and title throughout the Yintah and sets out a process to negotiate an agreement on how to implement them.
“With this MOU, we will now begin to work toward a better understanding between Canada and British Columbia, we will be able to strengthen better relationships and establish strong economies. Wet’suwet’en People, regardless of political views and opinions can now visualize certainty. Wet’suwet’en traditions and culture will always remain with the confines of Wet’suwet’en language. Our priorities are to: mobilize safety measures for all Wet’suwet’en People, promulgate Wet’suwet’en existence and sanctify our inviable Wet’suwet’en traditions,” said Wet’suwet’en Dinï’ze Woos, (Frank Alec), Cas Yihk, Gitdumt’en (Bear Clan).
Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, Scott Fraser, B.C. Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, and Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, signed the MOU on May 14, 2020, via videoconference. The MOU was signed virtually to respect guidelines from public health officials to protect the health and well-being of people and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The MOU is the start of a negotiation process. We have a great deal of work ahead of us to determine how we will implement rights and title together, and reunification within Wet’suwet’en Nation is key to this work moving forward successfully. We are approaching these negotiations with respect and recognition, and have committed to working together with transparency and openness for the benefit of all people who live in the Yintah,” said Scott Fraser, B.C. Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.
The MOU commits Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and the provincial and federal governments to negotiate a series of agreements that will resolve matters of rights and title outstanding for decades since the 1997 Supreme Court of Canada Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa ruling. Any formal agreements reached as a result of negotiations will require approval by each of the parties.
“The signing of this MOU marks an important step in our work to rebuild our relationship with the Wet’suwet’en and towards affirming and implementing their rights and title. As negotiations begin, a comprehensive, inclusive and transparent engagement process will support the parties so they can work together towards a final agreement on the affirmation and implementation of Wet’suwet’en rights and title. These discussions are breathing life into the 1997 Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa decision, which is part of our country’s work on the path of reconciliation,” said Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.
As outlined in the MOU, the three parties will now begin negotiating an agreement on a path to implement Wet’suwet’en rights and title. Topics to be discussed will include Nation reunification, revenue-sharing, compensation, land and resources, child and family wellness, water, fish, land-use planning and decision-making.
Planning is currently underway to establish both internal Wet’suwet’en and external engagement processes to ensure transparency and openness throughout the negotiations. Wet’suwet’en clan members and elected representatives, neighbouring First Nations, municipal governments and other interested parties who live and work in the Yintah will be included.
The MOU and all future agreements will uphold the Aboriginal rights and title recognized and affirmed by Section 35 of the Constitution and align with B.C.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.
Dinï’ze Knedebeas (Warner William), Unistot’en (Big Frog) –
“Signing this thing doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. My mother-in-law, cousin, and all those that participated in the court case. In the time to come, we need to participate in this to work, for all of us, for those yet to come.”
Elder Christine William, on behalf of Dinï’ze Hagwilnegh (Ron Mitchell), Laksilyu (Small Frog) –
“We are so proud and humbled by the wisdom and determination of my late mother Madeline Alfred, and all that hard work in the Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa court case. It wasn’t about her; it was for our people, it was for all our grandchildren and Yintah.”
Dinï’ze Na’Moks (John Ridsdale), Tsayu (Beaver) –
“We are doing this for everyone. The past cannot be changed, but the future can.”
Dinï’ze Smogelgem (Warner Naziel), Laksamshu (Fireweed and Owl) –
“For 200 years, colonization came through our lands in many deadly and detrimental ways. We have survived those deadly waves of disease and harmful colonial laws. Throughout these generations of dehumanizing racist policies, we have always conducted ourselves in the selfless and respectful ways according to our ancient laws. Our Nation deserves to experience true sovereignty and we can finally teach our children a new history from this day forth.”
Dinï’ze Madeek (Jeff Brown), Gitdumt’en (Bear) –
“This is an historic event. Our ancestors wanted this for 33 years and now it will come to our Nation. Our work starts to get tougher. We are ready now.”
Dinï’ze Kloum Khun (Alphonse Gagnon), Laksamshu (Fireweed and Owl) –
“It’s a long time coming, in my lifetime since the early 1970’s when we felt ok to start defending ourselves. We have had many Chiefs that were ahead of us, I would like to thank them. The Plaintiffs in the Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa case were very passionate about the Yintah, about our ownership and rights and title. We have tried negotiations before and it didn’t work well. It’s important to thank all the people that supported us, the Mohawks, Gitxsan, and all across Canada, and the youth especially. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Dinï’ze Gisday’wa (Fred Tom), Gitdumt’en (Bear) –
“It’s a wonderful day. We have a lot of catching up to do –150 years. We called upon our ancestors to be here with us. I would like to thank all our supporters, around town, in Moricetown, Tse Kya, Lake Babine, all the students, and those that came out to the yintah.”
Dinï’ze Lay’oh (James Namox), Gilseyhu (Big Frog) –
“I would like to thank all the signatories, and I agree that this should have been done a long time. My late mom Lucy, (previous) Goohlaht, participated in the Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa court case, for our kids, for our future. We are here to continue on with that work.”
Wet’suwet’en means people of the Wedzin Kwe River (Bulkley River). Yintah means territory. Dinï’ze means male Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief. Inuk Nuatden means Wet’suwet’en laws.
The Wet’suwet’en Yintah, is located in the central Interior of B.C. around Smithers, Burns Lake, Broman Lake, and François Lake.
Wet’suwet’en Nation is comprised of five clans: Gilseyhu (Big Frog) Laksilyu (Small Frog), Gitdumten (Wolf/Bear), Laksamshu (Fireweed), and Tsayu (Beaver).
The clans are divided into 13 Houses and each House is represented by a Hereditary Chief.
There are six independent Wet’suwet’en band councils, each represented by an elected Chief and council: Hagwilget First Nation Government, Nee Tahi Buhn Band, Skin Tyee Nation, Ts’ilh Kaz Koh First Nation, Wet’suwet’en First Nation, and Witset First Nation.