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Indigenous activists opposing pipeline project attacked, arrested by Canadian police

By Ryan Hamann |
February 7, 2020
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Milwaukee, WI - In the early morning hours of February 6, officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) invaded territory belonging to the peoples of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, attacking indigenous activists and supporters who are actively opposing a pipeline project that will cut across Wet’suwet’en land. At least six land protectors were arrested and several others, including members of the media on the scene, were detained and removed from Wet’suwet’en territory by the RCMP.

This escalation is only the most recent incident in a conflict which began back in 2018 but whose true origins extend back to when the first settlers arrived in the land now known as Canada.

In October 2018, an initial announcement was made about a large scale industrial energy project involving the building and operation of a terminal for the liquefaction, storage and loading of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the port of Kitimat, British Columbia, Canada. The $40 billion project, known as LNG Canada, marks the largest private sector investment in Canadian history.

The Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline, which will be built and owned by Canadian energy company TC Energy Corp, marks the first phase in the process. The purpose of the $6.6 billion endeavor is to transport gas from where it is extracted in northeast British Columbia to the previously mentioned terminal in Kitimat. All of these plans were made without first consulting with the First Nations people whose land will be most impacted, namely the Wet’suwet’en.

Large swathes of land in British Columbia and other parts of the country have never been ceded to the Canadian government or impacted by any treaties. This fact was recognized in a 1997 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. The CGL pipeline cuts directly into that unceded land.

While 20 First Nations band councils along the proposed route have signed agreements in support of the project, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs - the leaders of the nation’s governance system in place before the forced imposition of the Indian Act in 1876 - have not. The hereditary chiefs argue that band councils only have jurisdiction over reserve lands, not unceded territories. Each of the 13 hereditary chiefs rejected all oil and gas pipelines in their territories.

In an act of resistance against an attack on their sovereignty, members of the Wet’suwet’en nation and their supporters established at least three camps along a key access road that the pipeline construction team requires. One of these camps is actually the Unist'ot'en healing village, which began as a Wet'suwet'en-operated checkpoint on the road in 2009.

These justified actions were met with an interim court injunction, demanding an end to protests and for the workers to be able to go about their jobs unimpeded. Police came to violently enforce the injunction at the Gidimt'en camp on January 7, 2019, arresting 14 people. This prompted an agreement between the nation's hereditary chiefs and police to allow pipeline workers through Unist'ot'en for pre-construction work. This agreement did not end the resistance to the intrusive project.

Tensions flared again near the end of 2019 following the December 31 court ruling of Justice Marguerite Church. Church ruled in favor of Coastal GasLink (CGL), ordering specific Wet’suwet’en defendants and supporters to stop preventing contractors from accessing the lone service road. The judge claimed CGL had all the required approval to proceed with their pipeline project. This represented an obvious assault on the sovereignty of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

On January 5, 2020, less than a week after the Canadian court order to cease and desist all obstruction, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs issued an eviction notice to CGL, citing their own trespass laws. As a part of their defiance of the Canadian government and the private energy corporations, Wet’suwet’en activists felled trees along the service road to block passage. They also notched other trees (making them prone to falling) and constructed other obstacles such as stacks of tired, kindling and jugs of oil and gas products.

After the hereditary chiefs held a press conference on date marking one year since the imposition of the initial court order which led to 14 arrests, CGL announced that it would hold off on redeploying workers to begin construction, but posted the court order, triggering a three-day timeframe for the road to be cleared. The company requested to meet with the chiefs, but they refused, citing their desire to only communicate government-to-government. This refusal was met by an RCMP-imposed blockade of all routes into and out of the territory.

The British Columbian provincial government, headed by Premier John Horgan, and the 13 Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs agreed to meet for a week of diplomatic discussions, which began on January 30. Less than a week later, on February 4, all parties involved released statements explaining that talks had broken down and a resolution was not reached. The pre-morning raids discussed earlier are the direct result of this breakdown.

This struggle of the Wet’suwet’en Nation against the violation of their national sovereignty at the hands of capital and the Canadian state is part and parcel of the broader struggle of oppressed nations and peoples against imperialism. The eyes of the world should be on Wet’suwet’en as 2020 unfolds, just like they were on Standing Rock in the United States in 2016.

The resistance movement is calling for solidarity actions from indigenous and non-indigenous communities who uphold indigenous sovereignty and recognize the urgency of stopping resource extraction projects that threaten the lives of future generations. For more information, readers are encouraged to visit the website of the Unist’ot’en healing house and resistance camp at www.unistoten.camp.

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