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Explainer: Why are indigenous groups protesting a Canada gas pipeline?

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Protests broke out in many parts of Canada over the past week, triggered by arrests of dozens of protesters on traditional indigenous land along a route for TC Energy Corp's TRP.TO planned Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Protesters block the Halifax port railway in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada February 11, 2020, in this image obtained from social media. Laura Cutmore/via REUTERS

The demonstrations have disrupted freight and passenger rail and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday urged protesters to find a quick solution.

WHAT ARE THE PROTESTS ABOUT?

The flashpoint was police arrests that started last week in northern British Columbia of protesters who oppose the pipeline’s construction on traditional land of the Wet’suwet’en indigenous people.

The C$6.6-billion ($4.98 billion) Coastal GasLink is set to run through British Columbia, bringing natural gas to the coast where a Royal Dutch Shell-led RDSa.L group is building a liquified natural gas export terminal. In December, a private equity firm KKR & Co Inc KKR.N consortium agreed to buy a 65% stake in the pipeline.

Some 28% of the 670-km (420-mile) route passes through Wet’suwet’en lands.

WHO ARE THE PROTESTERS?

Some protesters are Wet’suwet’en while others are indigenous people protesting in sympathy with the Wet’suwet’en as well as non-indigenous people who are concerned about First Nations or environmental issues.

Many of them say that forcibly removing indigenous people from their lands is out of step with Canada’s stated goal of improving relations with First Nations.

WHERE DO INDIGENOUS PEOPLE STAND ON COASTAL GASLINK?

All elected officials of the 20 indigenous communities along the pipeline route, including Wet’suwet’en elected leaders, support Coastal. It would bring economic benefits to some of Canada’s most impoverished communities.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say that they hold authority for the community’s traditional lands, not the elected councils, and they oppose Coastal for its potential impact on forest and rivers.

The indigenous issues are further complicated by the fact that much of British Columbia is unceded territory - meaning there are no treaties between the Canadian government and indigenous groups.

WHAT IS AT STAKE?

Canadian National Railway Co CNR.TO, the country's biggest railroad, said on Tuesday it would be forced to shut down parts of its network unless rail line blockades are removed.

Ports also faced protests. Canada exports the vast majority of the grain, potash and crude oil that it produces.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Wet’suwet’en chiefs have called for police to cease enforcement of a December court injunction against protesters blocking construction.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, whose province depends on oil and gas revenue, on Tuesday called for police to step up enforcement, saying the protests are about ideology that is opposed to fossil fuels, not indigenous issues.

Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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