A group of people from the Wet’suwet’en Nation, who set up a checkpoint in northern British Columbia to oppose construction of the TransCanada Coastal GasLink pipeline, are raising the alarm over a “massive” RCMP mobilization nearby.
“We face the real and imminent threat of forcible removal from our own homelands,” they declared in a Facebook post Saturday night.
They spotted busloads of RCMP officers and tactical vehicles arrive in Smithers and Houston, B.C. on Saturday, Jen Wickham, a spokesperson for the group, told VICE News.
The original checkpoint dates back to April 2009, when it was set up by a house group called Unist'ot'en in response to a number of proposed pipelines on their territory. Each clan in the Wet'suwet'en Nation has two to three house groups, which are made up of family networks. Over the years, the camp has grown to include several more buildings and a healing centre for people with addictions, located directly in the path of several proposed pipelines, including the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
The 670-kilometre proposed pipeline would deliver natural gas across northern B.C., and deliver it to a facility near Kitimat, where LNG Canada plans to convert it into liquefied natural gas that will be exported to international markets. Coastal GasLink announced imminent construction on the project on Oct. 2, 2018.
Gidimt’en, one of the five clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, has territory neighbouring Unist’ot’en. Gidimt’en people have set up a second checkpoint — this one blocking the Morice River Bridge and Morice West Forest Service Road — to support the Unist’ot’en camp. The decision to do so was ratified at a feast on Dec. 16, 2018. (Photo above of the Dini Ze' (highest hereditary chiefs) of the Wet'suwet'en Nation, via Unist'ot'en Facebook page)
On Dec. 14, the B.C. Supreme Court issued an injunction against anyone who prevents Coastal GasLink Pipeline Limited workers from accessing pipeline construction sites. On Dec. 21, the injunction was expanded, with a judge ordering Wet’suwet’en people to remove any blockades within 72 hours, and authorizing police to arrest anyone who contravenes the order.
In a press release Sunday morning, B.C. RCMP said, “As with previous injunction orders and police enforcement clauses, the Court issues the Injunction Order, and then the police is given discretion to determine how and when to implement the Order.”
“For the land in question, where the Unist’ot’en camp is currently located near Houston, B.C., it is our understanding that there has been no declaration of Aboriginal title in the Courts of Canada,” the release states. “In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada issued an important decision, Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, that considered Aboriginal titles to Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en traditional territories. The Supreme Court of Canada decided that a new trial was required to determine whether Aboriginal title had been established for these lands, and to hear from other Indigenous nations which have a stake in the territory claimed. The new trial has never been held, meaning that Aboriginal title to this land, and which Indigenous nation holds it, has not been determined.” (Photo above of RCMP vehicles in Houston, B.C. via Jen Wickham)
But according to the Wet’suwet’en group opposing the pipeline, the Supreme Court ruling confirmed that they had never signed treaties with Canada or given up rights and titles to 22,000 square kilometres of land in northern B.C.
“You know, there’s all this talk about reconciliation, and yet the Wet’suwet’en people, who have proven in Canada’s highest court that we never surrendered, ceded or extinguished our title, are still having to physically defend ourselves and our territory against an invasion,” Wickham, the spokesperson for the group, told VICE News over the phone Sunday.
“This is completely unceded territory,” she added.
Wickham explained that the pipeline is a threat to the environment, Wet’suwet’en people and their culture.
“Based on our Wet’suwet’en law and our origin stories, we are responsible for taking care of the territories,” she said. “We want to be able to have our children and our grandchildren experience what it’s like to be Wet’suwet’en. And we can’t do that if there’s no salmon, and there’s no berries and no moose. It’s our responsibility to the territories that have sustained us for thousands of years to make sure that our future generations will also be sustained by those territories.”
Gas pipelines can and do explode. In October 2018, a gas pipeline explosion near Prince George, B.C., forced a different First Nation, Lheidli T’enneh, to evacuate.
Since the group first put out the call for support, Wickham said they had seen supportive social media posts from across Canada, the U.S. and as far away as Australia.
B.C. RCMP has not said when officers will move in on the checkpoints and camp.
“We would like to emphasize that the RCMP respects the Wet’suwet’en culture, the connection to the land and traditions being taught and passed on at the camp, and the importance of the camp to healing,” it said in a statement. “We also recognize the importance of open and direct dialogue between all parties involved in this dispute.”
The RCMP says its primary concerns are “public safety, police officer safety, and preservation of the right to peaceful, lawful and safe protest, within the terms set by the Supreme Court in the injunction.”
Cover image via the Unist'ot'en Facebook page.