In the first sign of movement since protesters shut down rail traffic across Canada more than a week ago, Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have offered to leave Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia. Protesters have blockaded railways in support of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation’s opposition to the construction of a natural gas pipeline through its unceded territory.

Militarized RCMP officers raided Wet’suwet’en territory on February 6 to enforce a court injunction that would allow pipeline construction to continue. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1993 that the Wet’suwet’en had never ceded its territory to the Canadian government, and the First Nation’s Hereditary Elders have thus argued that Ottawa cannot force them to accept the construction of the pipeline.

Blair said in a cabinet meeting this morning that the RCMP was prepared to withdraw from its position on Wet’suwet’en land as a preparatory step to defuse the stand-off that has crippled rail traffic across the country. The RCMP has reportedly agreed to pull back to the town of Houston, which is located on Wet’suwet’en territory, as long as Morice West Forest Service Road remains clear.

“They’ve asked for a commitment from the hereditary chiefs that the road will remain free of obstruction and it is moving toward a less confrontational and a more peaceable arrangement entirely appropriate to the circumstances, and I’m very hopeful that that will satisfy the concerns that were raised,” Blair said.

Although the Public Safety Minister’s announcement has raised hopes for an end to the confrontation, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have have made it clear that negotiations they with federal and provincial officials cannot begin until the RCMP leave their territory completely.

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Photo by Adrian Wyld, Courtesy of Canadian Press