RCMP Arrests Dozens of Land Defenders, and 2 Journalists, at Wet’suwet’en Standoff

It’s the third year in a row police have enforced injunctions in the area using militarized force. 
Anya Zoledziowski
Toronto, CA
November 22, 2021, 4:33pm
demonstrators in support of wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs
Protesters blocked a rail line in support of Wet'suwet'en land defenders who were arrested by the RCMP on Friday in northern British Columbia, in Toronto, Ont., on Sunday, Nov., 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov 

Canada’s federal police have arrested about 30 people, including Indigenous elders and land defenders and two journalists, during multiple raids on Wet’suwet’en territory in northeastern British Columbia, where a dispute against a natural gas pipeline has been raging for years.

According to reports, RCMP descended on a resistance camp on Friday as part of its multi-day raid. The camp, erected on Sept. 25, had stalled Coastal GasLink’s efforts to drill a tunnel for their $6.6 billion pipeline under the sacred Wedzin Kwa river. Two freelance journalists, Amber Bracken and Michael Toledano, were arrested on site. Bracken was on assignment for the Narwhal, an online environmental magazine, and Toledano is a documentary filmmaker who has been on site for years. The journalists are still being detained and are awaiting a bail hearing in Prince George. 

“RCMP has gone outside the law in its efforts to prevent the press from covering events taking place in the public interest. It is an absolute disgrace,” the Canadian Association of Journalists said in a statement Saturday. 

Last Sunday, pipeline resistance leaders with the Wet’suwet’en Gidimt’en Clan evoked an eviction order, first issued by hereditary chiefs in 2020, to Coastal GasLink workers, giving them eight hours to “peacefully” leave the territory.

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“Wetlands have been destroyed. Our animals have been sick. We need to protect what is left for all the future generations,” said Sleydo’, also known as Molly Wickham, a spokesperson with Gidimt’en.

After the deadline passed, they seized a Coastal GasLink excavator and dug up a road—the only route that gave access to several work sites and camps housing about 500 people, the Narwhal reported.

Four days later, police moved in and enforced a B.C. Supreme Court injunction order, which protects the pipeline’s development. According to the Narwhal and APTN, police used canine units and were armed with snipers and assault rifles. Sleydo’ was among those arrested out of about 30 Indigenous land defenders and leaders.

Wet'suwet'en elected officials have approved the pipeline project, but hereditary chiefs, viewed by many as the rightful leaders, haven’t. In early 2020, their supporters blocked critical infrastructure across Canada in a national display of solidarity.

According to Sleydo’, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have never ceded, surrendered, or lost title to their territory in war. “That means that what they say goes,” Sleydo’ said. 

Many, including Gidimt’en Clan, say Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have a constitutional right—affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1997 Delgamuukw decision—to reject energy projects on their territory. 

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The decision affirmed Wet’suwet’en land title rights, but also said they are “not absolute.”

It’s the third year in a row police have enforced injunctions in the area using militarized force. 

Police told the media they read out the injunction order and issued several warnings before forcibly making arrests. They said they also have had to clear felled trees and equipment from roadways to make them passable for construction workers. 

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs issued a joint statement last week condemning the police actions. 

“RCMP should be assisting flood victims and communities, not out invading our Territory and arresting our peaceful people and supporters,” they said.

The raids occurred as the province grappled with a catastrophic storm that flooded several communities, destroyed highways, and killed at least four people.

Supporters of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs mobilized across Canada over the weekend.Editorial Guide

Last year, a reporter for VICE World News was detained while reporting on the RCMP raids.

Follow Anya Zoledziowski on Twitter.