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Heiltsuk statement: Protest in Bella Bella was 'very respectful'

The Tyee received this afternoon an emailed press release from the Heiltsuk Tribal Council in Bella Bella responding to the Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel's cancellation of the day's hearings in the community. According to press reports, the JRP cancelled the hearings because of security and logistical concerns, after protesters greeted their arrival at the airport.

Here is the full text of the statement by the Heiltsuk Tribal Council that arrived in The Tyee's inbox:

"On Sunday afternoon, the Joint Review Panel issued a notice to the leadership of the Heiltsuk First Nation stating that hearings would not commence as scheduled on April 2. Around 200 youth and community members greeted the plane carrying Panel members, Heiltsuk hereditary chiefs and the community's allies. Many were in regalia, and hereditary chiefs performed a welcome dance on the tarmac. School children with signs lined the roads from the airport, and the RCMP was present to support the peaceful intent of the gathering.

"'What we did at the airport was very respectful and strong. It was emotional and powerful but importantly, it was always intended to be respectful and peaceful too,' says Chief Councillor Slett.

"'They [the JRP] feel they are not in a safe environment. That was based on the reception at the airport.

"'We have received a notice from the Joint Review Panel that the April 2 hearings have been cancelled.

"Heiltsuk Tribal Council and the Hemas (hereditary chiefs) are working with the JRP and its staff to resolve any misunderstandings arising from the peaceful demonstration. It is important to the Heiltsuk that its intervenors and community leaders be given the opportunity to voice their testimony to the Panel.

"Says Slett, 'We are working to ensure this process goes forward with respect and dignity, and our community and its allies will continue to seek peaceful means of expressing our position to the JRP.'

"Security measures have been a critical part of logistical planning for the Bella Bella hearings, including communication with the local RCMP detachment to ensure all events remain peaceful. Says Chief Slett, 'It is a cornerstone of our Heiltsuk culture to respect all guests in our territory, and we will continue to uphold our traditional ways and laws in this regard. It is who we are as a people.'

"News of the cancelation was received during an open traditional feast to welcome guests to the community. The JRP was not in attendance. Heiltsuk leadership is confident an outcome will be reached with the JRP that supports the Nation's peaceful intent and strong position on this issue."

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