First Nations group, Canadian officials reach unspecified deal on pipeline

A photograph of a rail yard. There are intermodal containers and rail cars There are loading cranes at a port in the background.

After three days of negotiations, the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en and Canadian government officials have reached a tentative agreement on how to proceed with Coastal GasLink’s project to construct a fracked-gas pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia, according to local news reports.

Canada’s freight transportation industry and numerous shippers have been caught between the First Nations group and Coastal GasLink, with protesters setting up blockades on passenger and freight rail tracks in support of the Wet’suwet’en. The blockades forced Canadian National (NYSE: CNI) to shut down its eastern operations and passenger rail provider VIA Rail to cancel services for several days since the protests started  Feb. 6.

“We’re going to be continuing to look at more conversations with BC [British Columbia],” said Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief Chief Woos at a press conference Sunday. He said the hereditary chiefs still are against the pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory but that they would keep working with government officials on the issues surrounding the pipeline project.

The terms of the agreement were not disclosed. Instead, it will go to the clans of the Wet’suwet’en first for their approval before any details are released.

Canada’s Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said the agreement terms build on a previous Supreme Court decision regarding First Nations’ rights and title. The proposed agreement honors the protocols of the Wet’suwet’en and will help ensure that the rights holders “will always be at the table” in future related discussions, according to Bennett.

She called the work completed so far and the respect among all parties “a milestone in the history of Canada.”

While the clans review the agreements, CoastalGas Link could resume work on the pipeline construction as it is permitted to do so, according to Scott Fraser, British Columbia Indigenous Relations minister.

For over three weeks, protesters have been blocking portions of Canada’s rail network. While many of the rail blockades have been isolated protests that were cleared within 24 hours, some occurred nearby ports and disrupted operations there, while others camped out near rail tracks for weeks. A multiday rail blockade near Belleville, Ontario, was cleared after the Ontario Provincial Police began dismantling the blockade last Monday.

Throughout the protests, shippers and government officials called for a peaceful, yet swift, resolution that would address the issues between the Wet’suwet’en and the federal government, warning that the disruptions would put Canada’s reputation as a reliable trading partner at risk. Meanwhile, because the rail blockades curtained Canadian National’s (CN) eastern operations, CN resorted to working with other rail partners, reportedly including its rival Canadian Pacific (NYSE: CP), while the Canadian trucking industry became overwhelmed from demand for freight transportation.

CN is starting to call back employees to its eastern operations, according to Reuters. The railway didn’t returned a request for comment to confirm its plans.