RCMP Arrest 14 People Including Journalists in Wet’suwet’en

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RCMP in Wet'suwet'en
RCMP in Wet'suwet'en

Amid the State of Emergency in British Columbia, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are engaged in action to clear protesters in Wet’suwet’en territory where they have been protesting a multi-billion dollar natural gas pipeline.

The RCMP arrested 14 people and cleared the forest service road in northern British Columbia that was barricaded by a crushed van and another vehicle.

One of the individuals arrested was a working journalist. This move by the RCMP is generating protest now from the Canadian Association of Journalists.

Wet’suwet’en and Haudenosaunee members have been opposing construction of the Coastal Gas Link Pipeline and recently issued an eviction notice.

Many people across the country are moving in support of the Indigenous protest in British Columbia while some are questioning the government’s use of resources to arrest the protesters during the state of emergency over the massive flooding and landslides.

The land defenders state, “The Provincial Government has prioritized the criminalization of Wet’suwet’en water protectors over the needs of people throughout the province, as two charter planes of RCMP have been deployed on Wet’suwet’en land amidst historic, climate driven floods.”

The protestors say that the RCMP flew in a number of police officers who where heavily armed.

The protests in support of Wet’suwet’en are starting across Canada.

On Twitter, #ShutDownCanada is trending.

Backgrounder

Overview:

An Indigenous nation in Northern BC, Canada is occupying their unsurrendered territories and resisting the construction of several proposed hydraulically fractured gas and bitumen pipelines across their traditional territory. Under ‘Anuc niwh’it’en (Wet’suwet’en law) all five clans of the Wet’suwet’en have unanimously opposed all pipeline proposals and have not provided free, prior, and informed consent to Coastal Gaslink/TransCanada to do work on Wet’suwet’en lands. Each clan within the Wet’suwet’en Nation have full jurisdiction under their law to control access to their territory. In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa court case that the Wet’suwet’en people, as represented by their hereditary leaders, had not given up rights and title to 22,000 square kilometers of Northern British Columbia.

According to the Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gitdumden territory, “All Wet’suwet’en Clans have rejected the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline because this is our home. Our medicines, our berries, our food, the animals, our water, our culture are all here since time immemorial. We are obligated to protect our ways of life for our babies unborn.”

The provincial and federal government must uphold their responsibilities to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by revoking the permits for this fracked gas pipeline that does not have consent from any Wet’suwet’en Clan. The federal government, provincial government, Coastal GasLink/TransCanada, and the RCMP do not have jurisdiction on Wet’suwet’en land.

The Wet’suwet’en and Canadian Law:

The Wet’suwet’en nation have lived on and governed their territories for thousands of years. They have never signed treaties or sold their land to Canada. In 1997, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs joined with Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs, and won the landmark Delgamuukw-Gidsaywa Supreme Court of Canada case. The court recognized that the Wet’suwet’en people have never given up title to 22,000 km2 (8500mi2) of land in northern British Columbia – an area the size of New Jersey. The court decision also recognized Wet’suwet’en Hereditary chiefs as the rightful representatives of the Wet’suwet’en title holding collective. Wet’suwet’en hereditary decision making processes were recognized and described in the 2011 Canfor v. Sam ruling of BC’s Supreme Court, which stated: “Each Wet’suwet’en chief has rights and responsibilities specific to the particular territory over which that chief is given a duty to protect. The rights and responsibilities are confirmed, coordinated, and directed to the common good, in other words, governed, through the feast.”

Despite these rulings, the governments of Canada and British Columbia continue to assert jurisdiction over this territory and have issued permits for resource projects without the consent of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. Wet’suwet’en people upholding decisions made in accordance with Wet’suwet’en law have been criminalized by the Canadian state, and have repeatedly been arrested for occupying and controlling access to their house territories.

Wet’suwet’en Governance Structure and UNDRIP:

The Wet’suwet’en nation is comprised of five clans (Gilseyhu, Likhts’amisyu, Laksilyu, Tsayu, Gidimt’en), which are further divided into thirteen house groups. Each house group has distinct house territories that have been governed and utilized by house members since time immemorial for food harvest and seasonal occupation to meet the needs of its members. Hereditary chiefs whose titles are linked to each house are responsible for the health and sustainability of their house group territories. Wet’suwet’en law protects each house territory against trespass or harvest by outsiders, with hereditary chiefs controlling access and use even amongst our own nation.

Wet’suwet’en law is enacted through the Bahtlats (feast hall), where decisions are ratified and clan business is conducted. The Wet’suwet’en feast was made illegal for 100 years through the Canadian potlatch ban, effectively criminalizing Wet’suwet’en governance and political systems and replacing our system that pre-dates colonization with the Indian Act. Despite this, Wet’suwet’en people have retained their legal traditions and continue to govern themselves in the feast hall in accordance with Wet’suwet’en law to this day.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) aligns with Wet’suwet’en law by describing the right of Indigenous peoples to require Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) before any development occurs on their traditional territories. Despite BC’s intent to implement UNDRIP, the Province has continued to deny the self-determination of the Wet’suwet’en and our internationally protected right to FPIC.  The most troubling aspect of this has been the right to participate in decisions that impact our rights without “coercion, bias, conditions, bribery, or rewards” which has resulted in the issues we are faced with today.

The United Nation’s Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN CERD) has repeatedly condemned the Coastal Gaslink project, urging the Canadian state to halt the project, seek Free, Prior, and Informed Consent from the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, and urging police to stand down on Wet’suwet’en lands and to “immediately cease the forced eviction” of Wet’suwet’en people.

Coastal Gaslink and LNG Canada: The Wet’suwet’en people, under the governance of their hereditary chiefs, are opposing the largest fracking project in Canadian history. The Coastal Gas Link pipeline (CGL), owned by TC Energy (formerly TransCanada) aims to connect the fracking operations of Northeastern B.C. with a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility in the coastal town of Kitimat.

This export terminal, called LNG Canada, is owned by a consortium of multinational oil giants (Shell, PetroChina, Petronas, KOGAS, and Mitsubishi). In a previously attempted LNG pipeline (Pacific Trails Pipeline) there was an agreement for the stakeholders to consider transition to bitumen after five years of operation, while Coastal Gaslink’s benefit agreements with Indigenous communities outline the prospect of converting the 48” pipe to transport bitumen.

CGL is one of many proposed pipelines attempting to cut across the Wet’suwet’en traditional territories. If built, it could expedite the construction of subsequent proposed bitumen and fracked gas pipelines, the expansion of LNG Canada, and create an incentive for gas companies to tap into shale deposits along the pipeline right of way. This project aims to blaze a trail, where several other proposed pipelines would be built through some of the only pristine areas left in this entire region. If CGL were to be built and become operational, it would irreversibly transform the ecology and character of Northern B.C. This is why the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have all unanimously opposed the construction of ALL pipelines through their territory, ratifying this numerous times in the bahlats.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs Eviction Notice to Coastal Gaslink, #ShutdownCanada

On January 4, 2020, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs from all five clans of the nation issued and enforced an eviction notice against the Coastal Gaslink pipeline. Roads leading onto Gidimt’en and Unist’ot’en territory were blocked in an assertion of Wet’suwet’en law, several support camps along the Morice Forest Service Road were constructed, and the RCMP responded to land defenders with a series of consecutive, large-scale militarized raids. Two Unist’ot’en hereditary chiefs, Tsake’ze Howilhkat and Tsake’ze Geltiy, were arrested and removed from their territories, along with the daughter of Hereditary Chief Woos and Indigenous land defenders from the Gitxsan, Mohawk, Tlingit, Dene, Nlaka’pamux, and Cree nations. In total, 28 arrests were made.

In response, dozens of solidarity blockades and protests occurred throughout Canada under the moniker #ShutdownCanada, blocking government offices and legislatures, and shutting down highways, railways, and ports.

Wet’suwet’en Land Re-occupations:

The Wet’suwet’en have occupied and used our traditional territories despite the creation of reserves and forced displacement policies under the Indian Act.  In recent decades, several Wet’suwet’en clans have re-occupied their traditional territories in order to revitalize their culture, traditional harvesting practices, and generations of storytelling embedded in the land. These re-occupations include:

Unist’ot’en Village: Gilseyhu clan, Dark HouseTalbits Kwa territory, which belongs to Dark House Head Hereditary Chief Knedebeas. Spokesperson: Howilhkat / Freda Huson

Unist’ot’en Village is an Indigenous re-occupation of traditional territory. Over the past 10 years, Dark House members and supporters have built a series of cabins, a permaculture garden, greenhouse, and a Healing Center to support members of the Wet’suwet’en community who are healing from addiction and colonial trauma. Unist’ot’en has implemented a Free Prior and Informed Consent protocol in accordance with UNDRIP and Wet’suwet’en law that requires any visitors to the territory to seek the consent of Dark House Hereditary Chiefs. This protocol was in place until the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline company, with support from the RCMP, forcibly entered the territory without consent to begin work on the Coastal GasLink Pipeline in January 2019. Unist’ot’en village is located 66km along the Morice River West forest service road, across the Morice River (Wedzin Kwah) Bridge. Dark House continues to run healing programs for clients at the Healing Center, despite continued industry destruction and police harassment.

Gidimt’en Access Point: Gidimt’en clan, Cas Yikh (Grizzly) House Lhudis Bin territory, which belongs to Cas Yikh house Head Hereditary Chief Woos. Spokesperson: Sleydo / Molly Wickham

In Dec. 2018, in the Witset feast hall, the Gidimt’en clan announced their intention to set up a checkpoint at 44 km along the Morice River forest service road. The checkpoint would serve to protect Cas Yikh territory, as well as Dark House’s neighbouring territory (Talbits Kwa), including the Unist’ot’en Healing Center. The access point includes a number of canvas tents, a yurt, an outdoor kitchen, timber frame cabin, children’s play areas and gathering places. They host cultural events, hunting and berry picking workshops, and provide a space for Wet’suwet’en families, elders and children to access the land for cultural practices. The camp is located beside Ts’el Ka’i’ kwe (Lamprey creek), which is a traditional campsite, fishing site, and gathering place. On January 7, 2019, the camp was violently raided by heavily militarized RCMP in order to enforce Coastal GasLink’s interim injunction and ensure CGL’s access to Dark House territory for pipeline construction, leading to 14 arrests. The Guardian subsequently obtained police files, which noted that the RCMP were prepared to use lethal force to secure access for the pipeline company. 

After the raid, CGL demolished a number of camp structures to make room for construction equipment, and the RCMP temporarily occupied the site as a surveillance post until it was reclaimed by Gidimt’en clan members. It continues to operate as a gathering place for Wet’suwet’en people and the revitalization of their culture. 

On January 4, 2020, the Gidimt’en once again took control of their territories, establishing a blockade at the 39km marker on the Morice Forest Service Road. Three large-scale RCMP operations, including a pre-dawn raid on a support camp, were used to force the road open for the Coastal Gaslink project to proceed. In one instance, a sniper rifle was pointed at an unarmed Gitxsan land defender for an extended period of time. 

Early on September 25, 2021, the Gidimt’en people, under the authority of Chief Woos, occupied and blockaded the drill site where Coastal Gaslink planned to tunnel pipe beneath Wedzin Kwa (Morice River) – the sacred headwaters of Wet’suwet’en land. This new occupation site, dubbed Coyote Camp, was fortified with a series of blockades. RCMP made one arrest on September 25 using a tazer, and another on September 27 using torture techniques to force a supporter of the Wet’suwet’en out from beneath a bus blocking the access road. RCMP Sergeant Jason Charney accessed the camp and dumped out drinking water on October 10, in violation of human rights conventions.

Subsequently, Haudenosaunee allies joined Gidimt’en land defenders, repeatedly blocking RCMP attempts to access the area.

On November 14, 2021, Gidimt’en people issued a Mandatory Evacuation Order to Coastal Gaslink workers and retook control of the main road. This action enforced the initial eviction notice served to Coastal Gaslink on January 4, 2020. After the deadline and a two-hour extension elapsed, Coastal Gaslink declined to evacuate their workers from two large industrial camps beyond Gidimt’en territory, and new blockades were established in three locations. Land defenders seized Coastal Gaslink’s heavy equipment, using an excavator to destroy the only year-round access road into the area.

Likhts’amisyu – Parrot Lake Village The Sovereign Likhts’amisyu Village is an Indigneous reoccupation of a former Wet’suwet’en village site at Parrot Lakes. Since mid-2019, Likhts’amisyu members and supporters have built an outdoor kitchen and a series of log cabins, with the long-term vision of creating an environmentally sustainable community, interpretive trails, building a climate research facility, and protecting sacred sites on unceded Likhts’amisyu territory.

On October 17, 2021, Likhts’amisyu Chief Dsta’hyl, acting as an Enforcement Officer on behalf of the Lihkts’amisyu government, decommissioned a Coastal Gaslink excavator and claimed it as property of the Likhts’amisyu. 

On October 24, Likhts’amisyu Chiefs Dsta’hyl and Tse Besa, as well as Gitxsan chiefs and relatives, were prevented from accessing Lihkts’amisyu territory by a blockade of heavy equipment established by Coastal Gaslink. Dsta’hyl and supporters subsequently pushed through the blockade, occupying their traditional territory at the gates of Coastal GasLink’s P2 Camp. Dsta’hyl decommissioned 10 pieces of heavy equipment, and was arrested on October 27 along with Kolin Sutherland-Wilson of the Gitxsan nation.