Five days and 28 arrests later, the RCMP has decided to end “major enforcement operations” on Indigenous land defender camps in northern British Columbia.
Since Thursday of last week the federal police force has carried out a militarized campaign to remove Wet’suwet’en people and supporters from their territory to make way for construction of a $6.6 billion pipeline.
Though the natural gas company Coastal GasLink has signed benefit agreements with 20 First Nation band offices along the proposed route, the project has been fiercely opposed by hereditary chiefs who say they hold title rights and have not consented.
Raid speculation ramped up last month after RCMP began blockading the access road leading to Wet’suwet’en camps about an hour outside of Smithers, B.C. The “access control checkpoint” sparked fears that police would follow the script of a 2019 raid that deployed army fatigue-wearing tactical officers carrying assault and sniper rifles.
The RCMP’s latest show of force on Wet’suwet’en territory did deploy tactical officers, though they attempted to take a more behind-the-scenes role this time—in part by threatening reporters who took photos of them with arrest.
Land defenders countered with peaceful delay tactics, creating barriers and preventing RCMP from easily moving further up the road.
RCMP confirmed six arrests on Thursday, and another four arrests the following day—all of them released without charges or conditions. By Saturday, police remained at the second of three Wet’suwet’en camps. Eleven people were taken into custody over the weekend, according to police.
Molly Wickham, a spokesperson for the Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, called all the arrestees “heroes” for standing up to RCMP intimidation. “They’re not criminals,” she said in a video posted to Facebook. “They’re people with families and loved ones and children.”
Seven more people including Dark House clan spokesperson Freda Huson were arrested at the third Wet’suwet’en camp Monday, bringing the total to 28. After a drawn-out struggle to dismantle a gate with the word “Reconciliation” in bold lettering across it, RCMP finally reached Unist’ot’en Camp—the site of a $2 million healing lodge.
Several land defenders still remain on the territory, according to social media posts by Unist’ot’en Camp. “The Unist'ot'en Healing Centre and the people inside are safe,” reads an Unist’ot’en Camp tweet minutes before the RCMP announced it was pulling out.
RCMP confirmed that people were allowed to stay in the healing lodge, as well as inside cabin at the Gidimt'en camp.
"There are still persons who decided to remain in the cabin at the 44 km mark, and in the healing centre at the 66 km mark," RCMP Corporal Chris Manseau said by email Tuesday. "As they were not impeding, restricting or in any way was physically interfering with any person or vehicle travelling along the Morice Forest service road, they were within their rights to remain there."
Chief Superintendent Dave Attfield said he was happy with the result in a statement announcing the RCMP is “wrapping up its major operations.”
“I am very satisfied that this operation was conducted safely and there were no injuries sustained by anyone,” Attfield said in the release. “This was a very challenging situation, and I am proud of the professionalism displayed by our members.”
RCMP will continue to monitor the access road “in order to ensure it remains open and free from obstructions,” the statement said.
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This story has been updated with additional comment from RCMP.