On Monday, January 7th, Canadian federal police raided the Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gidumt’en Territory on unceded indigenous land in what is commonly known as British Columbia, Canada.
The Access Point is the forward position of a pipeline occupation held primarily by the Unist’ot’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation. The Unist’ot’en have been occupying this part of their territory for nine years to block numerous oil and gas pipelines from destroying their territory.
On Wednesday afternoon, the RCMP lifted the roadblock and exclusion zone that had been in place since Monday morning. Several RCMP negotiators, as well as hereditary chiefs, passed through the barrier on the bridge over the Wedzin Kwah and are currently engaged in negotiations inside the healing center.
The latest reports confirm that the Unist’ot’en will comply with the injunction and allow some Coastal Gaslink employees onto the territory. It remains to be seen what form the struggle will take.
Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs will open gate and comply with injunction. They do not want violence that happened in Gitdimt'en to repeat here. Many tears shed. Police negotiating with Clan to possibly allow gate to stay up. This is not over. #wetsuwetenstrong #unistoten https://t.co/liIUy8fYlW
— Unist'ot'en Camp (@UnistotenCamp) January 10, 2019
Some scenes as the Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chiefs arriving in Unist’ot’en territory and crossing through the checkpoint on the bridge near the healing lodge pic.twitter.com/UFO8hXI4by
— Jesse Winter (@jwints) January 9, 2019
The WiFi at the Gidimt’en checkpoint went down just as the police moved in. Here is some of what I saw in the fray: pic.twitter.com/DQxs7JcEhw
— Jesse Winter (@jwints) January 8, 2019
This is Canada in 2019. Indigenous people getting ripped from their homes by militarized police. Gidumt'en Clan spokesperson Molly Wickham arrested on her land. 12+ arrests including an elder. Wet'suwt'en hereditary chiefs with millenia old names blocked from their territories. pic.twitter.com/1CBZ6d6W8D
— Michael Toledano (@M_Tol) January 8, 2019
Fourteen land defenders were arrested on Monday including spokesperson Molly Wickham. She describes what happened in this video. All of the arrestees have been released as of 3pm Wednesday. You can donate to the legal support fund here.
Molly Wickham, Gitdimt’en spokesperson provides a detailed account of the police raid and arrests.
Media may use clips from this video ensuring context is maintained. Thank you all for your ongoing coverage.
Posted by Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gidumt’en Territory on Tuesday, January 8, 2019
The RCMP attack is also described in this StarMetro Vancouver article:
After a lengthy, increasingly heated back-and-forth between the demonstrators and police, officers began cutting the barbed wire and started up a chainsaw. Camp members began to scream in protest; two young men had chained themselves to the fence below the view of the officers, encasing their arms in a kind of pipe that meant opening the gate risked breaking both of their arms… [the] checkpoint camp was abandoned behind a massive fallen tree and a barrier of flame on Monday afternoon as dozens of RCMP officers finally pushed past the barricade set up to bar entry to the traditional territories of the Wet’suwet’en people.
The Gidumt’en and Unist’ot’en are two of five clans that make up the Wet’suwet’en Nation. The traditional leadership of all five clans oppose the pipeline. However, the elected band council (a colonial leadership structure set up by the Canadian state) voted in favor of the pipeline.
More than 60 solidarity events took place across Canada and the world this week. Using the hashtag #ShutdownCanada, blockades have stopped major intersections, financial districts, bridges, and ports in Vancouver, Ottowa, Toronto, Victoria, Montreal, and elsewhere.
This situation has a long background and highly significant legal significance. Kai Nagata describes the situation:
Many Canadians have heard of the 1997 Delgamuukw decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, which recognized that Aboriginal title still exists in places where Indigenous nations have never signed a treaty with the Crown. In fact, the court was talking about the land where tonight’s raid is taking place.
Delgamuukw is a chief’s name in the neighbouring Gitxsan Nation, passed down through the generations. Delgamuukw was one of dozens of plaintiffs in the case, comprising hereditary chiefs from both the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en Nations.
Together those leaders achieved an extraordinary milestone in forcing the Canadian courts to affirm the legitimacy of their oral histories, traditional laws and continuing governance of their lands. But it wasn’t until the Tsilhqot’in decision in 2014 that the Supreme Court went a step further, recognizing Aboriginal title over a specific piece of land.
If the Wet’suwet’en chiefs went back to court all these years later, many legal scholars say the strength of their claim to their territories would eventually force the Canadian government to relinquish thousands of square kilometres within the Bulkley and Skeena watersheds – and stop calling it “Crown land”.
That’s why the TransCanada pipeline company acted quickly, to secure an injunction against Wet’suwet’en members blocking construction before the legal ground could shift under their Coastal Gaslink project.
The 670-kilometre pipeline project would link the fracking fields of Northeastern B.C. with a huge liquid gas export terminal proposed for Kitimat. Called LNG Canada, this project is made up of oil and gas companies from China, Japan, Korea and Malaysia, along with Royal Dutch Shell.
The BC Liberal, BC NDP and federal governments all courted the LNG Canada project, offering tax breaks, cheap electricity, tariff exemptions and other incentives to convince the consortium to build in B.C. Both Christy Clark and Premier John Horgan celebrated LNG Canada’s final investment decision last fall, calling it a big win for the province.
However, without a four foot diameter (122cm) pipeline feeding fracked gas to the marine terminal, the LNG Canada project is a non-starter.
That brings us back to the Morice River, or Wedzin Kwa in the Wet’suwet’en language. This is where the rubber hits the road for “reconciliation”. Politicians are fond of using the word, but seemingly uncomfortable with its implications.
Politicians also talk a lot about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and how to enshrine it in B.C. law. Article 10 of UNDRIP states that “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories.” It is hard to see how tonight’s arrests are consistent with this basic right.
Pro-pipeline pundits are already working hard to spin this raid as the “rule of law” being asserted over the objections of “protestors”. They point to benefit agreements signed between TransCanada and many band governments along the pipeline route.
But under the Indian Act, elected councillors only have jurisdiction over reserve lands – the tiny parcels set aside for First Nations communities that are administered much like municipalities. That’s not where this pipeline would go.
What is at stake in the larger battle over Indigenous rights and title are the vast territories claimed by the Crown but never paid for, conquered or acquired by treaty. In Wet’suwet’en territory, those lands, lakes and rivers are stewarded by the hereditary chiefs under a governance system that predates the founding of Canada.