The Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and the B.C. government have announced they will be in talks over the next seven days to de-escalate a standoff over the Coastal GasLink pipeline project in northern B.C.
Work on the pipeline between British Columbia's northeast and Kitimat on the coast was halted after hereditary chiefs issued an eviction notice to the company, citing Wet'suwet'en trespass law.
Four weeks ago, the B.C. Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink an injunction instructing pipeline opponents to allow the company and its contractors to move through the Morice Forest Service Road to access the work site.
In a statement issued Thursday, the hereditary chiefs said they agreed to discussions with the provincial government which will be known as "Wiggus," the Wet'suwet'en word for respect.
"The hereditary chiefs maintain their commitment to peace and will pursue all avenues available to achieve a peaceful resolution," said the statement.
Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nation councils along the 670-kilometre pipeline's path, but the hereditary clan chiefs, who are leaders under the traditional form of governance, say the project has no authority without their consent.
The office of Premier John Horgan's responded to the chiefs' with a statement of its own welcoming their announcement of the Wiggus.
"This Wiggus/Respect Table is an opportunity for all parties to work in good faith towards de-escalation, and we view this announcement as a positive sign that all involved are determined to find a peaceful resolution."
RCMP to stand down during talks
Earlier this week, Horgan appointed former Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen to act as an intermediary between the chiefs, the province, RCMP, Coastal GasLink and others.
The RCMP set up a checkpoint two weeks ago along the service road that leads to the work sites and, in the process, blocked access to Wet'suwet'en territory.
After de-escalation talks were announced, the police force told CBC News in an email that it would respect the seven-day period planned for discussions and would not enforce the court-ordered injunction.
"While additional resources may be noted in the Smithers-Houston area, the resources will be on stand-by during the [seven-day] period," said Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet in the email, adding that an access control point will remain in place at the 27 kilometre mark on the road.