Yesterday, on the one-year anniversary of a police action that garnered international attention, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs reiterated their opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline and said they will only deal directly with provincial decision-makers and British Columbia’s RCMP commissioner.
“We will never change our stance on Coastal GasLink. We will never accept violence on our territory. We are a peaceful people. We will conduct ourselves in a peaceful and honourable manner. We expect Canada, British Columbia, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to do the same,” said Chief Na’Moks of the Tsayu clan.
Three days earlier, the hereditary chiefs evicted the pipeline company and closed access to the area. The pipeline would carry fracked gas from northeast B.C. to liquefication plants on the coast at Kitimat destined for offshore markets.
The chiefs were responding to a Dec. 31 B.C. Supreme Court decision that ruled in favour of an injunction allowing CGL to complete pipeline construction. Some Wet’suwet’en fear it could also lead to the destruction of two camps along the Morice West Forest Service Road.
While being used for cultural purposes, the camps, which were constructed by the Gidimt’en clan in December 2018 and by the Unist’ot’en house group a decade earlier, were initially blocking road access and preventing CGL from constructing the pipeline.
On Jan. 7, 2019, 14 people were arrested when police enforced an interim injunction by removing the roadblock at 44 kilometres on the Morice West Forest Service Road, near Gidimt’en camp. Three days later, those at Unist’ot’en camp stood back and allowed workers to enter after an agreement was reached with hereditary chiefs.
Last month, the Guardian revealed that RCMP officers were permitted to use “lethal overwatch” and to “use as much violence toward the gate as you want” during the Jan. 7 police action.
On Tuesday, Chief Na’Moks said the chiefs would only deal with B.C.’s police commissioner.
In an emailed statement, Dawn Roberts, director in charge of communication services for B.C. RCMP, confirmed that talks are being planned between the Wet’suwet’en chiefs and RCMP.
“Commissioner (Brenda) Lucki has acknowledged the request and fully supports deputy commissioner Jennifer Strachan, the commanding officer of the B.C. RCMP, who is well-positioned as our decision-maker in these matters,” she said.
“Deputy commissioner Strachan, along with her senior management team, have been actively engaged in facilitating a discussion with all the stakeholders. That remains our utmost priority at this time and [we] are optimistic that a meeting can take place immediately between the various stakeholders involved to find common ground and a peaceful resolution.”
Roberts added that frontline officers stationed at the Community-Industry Safety Office along the Morice forest road would continue to patrol the corridor.
On Tuesday, CGL posted aerial photos on its website showing what it described as “more than 100 trees” felled across the road between kilometres 39 and 42.
Chief Na’Moks said the logs were in place to protect Wet’suwet’en people.
“We must look at the history of the RCMP one year ago and what they did to our people and the guests on our territory,” he said. “They are not being clear to us on what their plans are. We are very clear and very open on what we do. We need to know what their plans are.”
He added that the chiefs, as decision-makers for the Wet’suwet’en, would only deal directly with other governing bodies and would not respond to CGL’s invitation to meet, which was posted to its website yesterday.
“If there is going to be a meeting, it will be between the decision-makers. That will be British Columbia, Canada, and we would like to meet with the commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We will not meet with local officials. We are the decision-makers on this land. We will only meet with the decision-makers. Coastal GasLink is merely a proponent and they are uninvited to this territory,” Na’Moks said.
In a statement emailed Tuesday afternoon, the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources gave no indication that it intends on meeting with the chiefs.
“With regard to the Coastal GasLink pipeline, the project has received necessary provincial permits and approvals to proceed with construction which is underway. On Dec. 31, the B.C. Supreme Court affirmed that the company is lawfully permitted to conduct their work. The company has been clear that it would like to speak with hereditary chiefs involved to facilitate access. We encourage representatives to engage with the company to achieve a resolution that respects the Court’s decision and ensures safety for all,” the statement reads.
During Tuesday’s press briefing, the chiefs called upon governments, RCMP and industry with the following demands:
- That the province cease construction of the CGL pipeline project and suspend its permits.
- That the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous rights to free, prior and informed consent are respected by the state and RCMP.
- That RCMP and other policing services be withdrawn from Wet’suwet’en territory.
- That governments, RCMP and industry respect Wet’suwet’en laws and governance, and that they refrain from using force to access Wet’suwet’en lands and remove its people.
In November, the province unanimously passed Bill 41, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, making B.C. the first province to recognize the declaration, which states that Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands and have the right to determine what happens on their territories.
Also Tuesday, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs posted a statement to its website supporting the Wet’suwet’en chiefs’ rejection of the injunction decision and eviction of CGL. “The UBCIC Chiefs Council fully supports the efforts of Indigenous Nations to ensure that their inherent Title and Rights are unconditionally recognized and upheld,” the statement reads.
Chief Na’Moks also spoke to a letter issued by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination last month calling on Canada to halt projects without Indigenous consent, such as the Site C dam, Trans Mountain pipeline and CGL.
“The world is watching. The United Nations is watching. This is not just the Wet’suwet’en. This is on the world stage and once again, I’ll reiterate time and time again, the Wet’suwet’en will remain peaceful people, but we will maintain our law,” Na’Moks said.
“We will never, ever forget what happened on this day last year. It goes into Wet’suwet’en history. It goes into British Columbia history. It goes into Canadian history, and it is implanted for us forever.”