RCMP officers and more than a dozen vehicles advanced on the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre late Sunday afternoon, as three graders cleared the road to within 10 metres of the entrance gate. The RCMP also used a surveillance drone to fly over people in the centre.
By 6 p.m., all but one police vehicle had withdrawn as darkness fell.
Karla Tait, volunteer director of clinical services at the healing centre, said the land defenders at the centre had drawn strength from protests across the country supporting their battle.
“We know people are standing up for what’s right,” she said. “We know that they have to push back against the status quo, push back against force, push back against threats of arrest. We know that a lot of people are taking risks by taking a stance with us and we really appreciate them.”
Freda Huson, Unist’ot’en spokesperson and healing centre director, shared that view.
“Those people have the power to stand up,” she said. “The more people stand up, that’s the only way Justin Trudeau’s going to listen. People power.”
Pipeline opponents at the centre awoke this morning to steely grey skies, a stiff breeze and the imminent threat of RCMP action.
The centre, at kilometre 66 of the Morice West Forest Service Road, is the only one of three Wet’suwet’en camps not yet raided by the RCMP.
Freda Huson, director of the healing centre, said that in Wet’suwet’en culture the wind is a sign that ancestors are nearby.
On Saturday, when two helicopters brought RCMP officers, Huson and others had called on their ancestors for support.
“The ancestors are here because we called them,” she said this morning as the group waited for expected RCMP action.
“They are here all the time — they are here all over the territory. That’s why we did the callout. We were asking them to be with us for today,” said Huson.
“And they came.”
Huson said she believes the Wet’suwet’en are making history.
“This is the first one that has been ruthless and aggressive right from the get-go,” Huson said. “The reason they’re not backing off is they’re probably the only company that got full-on support from the federal government and the provincial government.”
Since Thursday, the RCMP have arrested 21 people as they enforce a Dec. 31 injunction barring any interference with Coastal GasLink’s pipeline construction in the region about 60 kilometres south of Smithers.
The company wants to build a $6.6-billion pipeline to carry gas from the province’s northeast to an LNG plant at Kitimat.
The project has received support from some Wet’suwet’en elected councils, but hereditary chiefs are fighting to block the project. They evicted the company from their lands Jan. 4.
On Thursday, police launched a pre-dawn raid on the first Wet’suwet’en camp at kilometre 39 of the Morice road. They arrested six people, detained journalists and dismantled the camp.
On Friday, officers, including tactical squad members with rifles, moved in by helicopters and vehicles on the Gidimt’en camp at kilometre 44 on the road, eventually arresting four people. An unknown number of people refused to leave and remain in a cabin at the camp.
On Saturday, the RCMP arrested another 11 people at a warming centre at kilometre 27 of the forest road.
Those arrests ramped up tensions as the centre was outside the original RCMP exclusion zone, which had been established at kilometre 27.
But on Friday, the RCMP extended the exclusion zone another 23 kilometres, almost to Hwy 16 near Houston and said people could leave or be arrested. They cited risks from two earlier blockades on the road near the former checkpoint and said spikes had been placed along the road to damage the tires of vehicles operated by the RCMP.
People in the Unist’ot’en camp are ready for police action today after the RCMP visit Saturday. Two helicopters brought officers to the healing centre around 11 a.m.
After failed attempts to talk with the pipeline opponents at the camp, they returned to the helicopters and left the scene.
Huson donned regalia as the helicopters arrived, including a blanket representing the land. Women from the healing centre headed to a gate at the road with her and began a ceremony.
Huson later walked toward a large fire beside the road with a copy of the injunction.
“RCMP are liars!” she yelled, throwing the injunction in the fire. “It’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”
The women rang bells to summon ancestors and called out the names of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Huson blasted politicians involved in the decision to approve the pipeline.
“Shame on you Canada,” she said. “Shame on you Justin Trudeau. Shame on you John Horgan, when you spoke of reconciliation in our feast hall, and you basically spit in my chiefs’ face by refusing to talk to them. So that’s what that song is. It’s not a boastful song. It’s asking, why did it have to come to this?”