Wet’suwet’en member of the Skin Tyee Nation, Robert Skin, addresses about 200 supporters of the Coastal GasLink pipeline who gathered in Houston Wednesday afternoon to hear from Indigenous members in favour of the project. (Quinn Bender photo)

Meet the Wet’suwet’en who want the Coastal GasLink pipeline

Supporters of the pipeline are upset only one side is being heard nationwide

As protests across the country continue to plague construction of Coastal GasLink’s pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory, about 200 supporters of the project gathered in Houston Wednesday afternoon to hear from Indigenous leaders eager to see the pipeline completed.

The event, which hosted five speakers, was organized by The North Matters, a natural resource industry lobby group.

“The protesters get one side of the story, and they want to stand up with their fists in the air,” Robert Skin, an elected councillor for the Skin Tyee Nation, which is part of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. “Come and listen to us. Get both sides of the story before you go out and stop traffic and stop the rail line. All you’re doing is alienating people who are trying to put a roof over their children’s heads and food on their table.”

Skin praised Coastal GasLink for its consultation with elders and leaders, saying the company went on numerous interpretive walks through the nation’s traditional territory to map out the best possible route for the pipeline. The 670-kilometre pipeline would carry natural gas to a planned LNG Canada export facility in Kitimat.

Nationwide protests and blockades of rail lines followed a move by RCMP to enforce a court injunction earlier this month against the hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who had been obstructing an access road to Coastal GasLink’s work site.

Four of the five hereditary chiefs flew to Ontario Wednesday to thank Mohawk supporters blocking key rail lines.

READ MORE: Tories put no-confidence motion on House of Commons agenda

Steve Simons, a spokesperson for The North Matters, said his group organized the Houston event because national attention has focused largely on opposition to the pipeline, while the voices of many Wet’suwet’en members who support the project have been drowned out by negative news coverage, fracturing communities down racial lines across the Northwest.

Wednesday’s gathering was billed as an event to bring the community together by allowing Indigenous members in support of the project the chance to share their perspectives in a safe environment, free from intimidation and fear of harm.

Skin commended Coastal GasLink for its ecological and cultural sensitivity and said his nation’s benefit agreement with the company is key to the prosperity of future generations. Some of the money has already been used for professional training among members, and Skin said more has been earmarked to help alleviate a housing crisis and allow more members to move back to their community.

“Instead of saying ‘no’ to everybody all the time, now we can say ‘yes, we have the money for housing. Yes, we have the money for education’.”

The North Matters organized the session over the long weekend, to which Simons said he was pleased at the number of people who came out, particularly because it took place in the afternoon.

“There’s been a lot of bullying going on. And intimidation. Intimidation into silence,” Simons said of what Wet’suwet’en supporters of the pipeline have faced through social media and other means.

“What we wanted was a place where people could speak without fear of a backlash.”

Simons, a mostly-retired Victoria resident and who offers courses and speaks on natural resource issues, Simons said he concentrates on trying to deescalate hard line ‘yes’ and ‘no’ positions on resource development. He volunteered his time for the North Matters event.

“What I try to do is reach out for solutions for common values,” said Simons.

READ MORE: Federal minister pledges to meet Wet’suwet’en chiefs in Smithers over natural gas pipeline

Marion Tiljoe Shepherd, who owns a trucking company in Houston and is a member of the Wet’suwet’en Gilseyhu (Big Frog) clan, echoed those calls for solutions.

Her mother is a shareholder of a trap line near the pipeline route where police have twice raided protest camps.

“It’s been really hard for us,” she said to the audience. “I love my family, and my mom misses her family… but because we live here in Houston, we’re ostracized just because we want to work. We’re from an industrial town and we’ve always worked for industry. There’s two sides to every story.”

While a staunch supporter of the industry, Tiljoe Shepherd told the crowd mistakes were made on all sides, including Coastal GasLink’s ineffective consultation with hereditary chiefs, and the chiefs’ failure to consult with their members. But she also lays a lot of blame on the protesters who mobilized around the hereditary chiefs without access to other points of view.

“Who do you think you are?” she said of the protesters. “I didn’t ask you for help. I can speak for myself.

“My choice is my choice. My husband and I have a job. We want to work for Coastal GasLink; we want to work for the industry, and we have every right to.”

– with files from Rod Link

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

ICET emergency business relief coming for regional tourism businesses

Two programs will be offered for businesses starting in April

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District adopts 2020 budget in closed-door meeting

The plan shows an overall tax increase of 6.64 percent, applied differently in each electoral area

Timeline pushed back for Tofino-Ucluelet highway construction project

Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel said the ministry’s announcement came as “no surprise.”

Nanaimo, Royal Jubilee to be Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 frontline hospitals

Other Island hospitals will be admitting COVID-19 patients and will be used in a support role

COVID-19: 4 new deaths, 25 new cases but only in Vancouver Coastal, Fraser Health

A total of 1,291 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus

COVID-19: Don’t get away for Easter weekend, Dr. Bonnie Henry warns

John Horgan, Adrian Dix call 130 faith leaders as holidays approach

COVID-19: Trudeau says 30K ventilators on the way; 3.6M Canadians claim benefits

Canada has seen more than 17,000 cases and at least 345 deaths due to COVID-19

Comox spring training cancelled for Snowbirds next month

The team announced that due to ongoing travel restrictions they will not be training in the Valley

Some Cowichan schools to reopen for children of essential-services workers

Cowichan Valley will open 8 elementary schools this week

RCMP call on kids to name latest foal recruits

The baby horses names are to start with the letter ‘S’

Physiotherapists turn to technology to reach patients during COVID-19

Just because services, jobs, and socializing have been put on hold, it… Continue reading

As Canadians return home amid pandemic, border crossings dip to just 5% of usual traffic

Non-commercial land crossing dipped by 95%, air travel dropped by 96 per cent, according to the CBSA

Logan Boulet Effect: Green Shirt Day calls on Canadians to become organ donors

While social distancing, the day also honours the 16 lives lost in the 2018 Humboldt Broncos Crash

Most Read