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Rights + Justice

Arrest of Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief ‘So Insulting’

Chief Dsta’hyl spent the night in jail for his role in protesting the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Amanda Follett Hosgood 29 Oct 2021 |

Amanda Follett Hosgood is The Tyee’s northern B.C. reporter. She lives in Wet’suwet’en territory. Find her on Twitter @amandajfollett.

RCMP officers arrested two people on Wet’suwet’en territory Wednesday evening, including a hereditary Chief who was held in jail overnight.

Chief Dsta’hyl, Adam Gagnon, of the nation’s Likhts’amisyu Clan was released from the Houston RCMP detachment Thursday, according to B.C.’s prosecution service.

Kolin Sutherland-Wilson from the Gitxsan Nation, who was taken into custody along with Dsta’hyl on Wednesday, was conditionally released the same day.

An RCMP news release Thursday said that “a group of protesters” had blocked access to a Coastal GasLink pipeline work camp for several days and prevented supplies from reaching the camp.

It makes no mention of the Wet’suwet’en Nation or the pipeline conflict on the territory for almost two years, which has resulted in dozens of arrests. The pipeline will extend 670 kilometres from northeast B.C. to Kitimat, where it supplies LNG Canada’s processing and export facility.

Only a few of those arrested have been Wet’suwet’en name holders — or hereditary Chiefs — like Dsta’hyl, who hold rank within the nation’s traditional governance system.

“It’s so insulting, and actually unbelievable, that they would arrest a hereditary name carrier and bring it to this level, for what — an industry?” said Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks, John Ridsdale, as he awaited details about the arrests Thursday.

“It’s pretty foolish of British Columbia and Canada to do this with COP26 coming up. Here we are protecting the environment… and we get arrested for doing it.”

According to the RCMP, officers were called to the remote site on the Shea Forest Service Road, which leaves the Morice West Forest Service Road about 70 kilometres southwest of Houston, on Wednesday evening to keep the peace as workers evacuated from the camp.

“Houston RCMP have received several calls of complaints about the protest group allegedly committing acts of vandalism and thefts to CGL equipment in the area, even prior to the blockade outside the worker’s camp,” RCMP said, adding that attempts to peacefully end the conflict had been unsuccessful.

“Police will be proactively patrolling the forestry roads to ensure they remain open and unobstructed,” the release said.

Chief Smogelgem, Warner Naziel, who is also a Likhts’amisyu member, disputes the RCMP’s account.

“The RCMP claim that our Likhts’amisyu enforcement officer blocked the road preventing CGL from leaving,” he said. “That is hogwash, because there is plenty of video evidence from our media teams which shows quite the opposite.”

Videos posted to Likhts’amisyu Clan’s social media channels show heavy machinery apparently owned by Coastal GasLink blocking access to the pipeline right-of-way as Wet’suwet’en Chiefs attempted to monitor construction on their traditional territory.

In a video posted Monday morning, a Coastal GasLink worker can be heard invoking an injunction granted to the company in December 2019 as a reason for denying access to the territory.

“Anywhere beyond this point would be a breach of the injunction,” the worker says.

The injunction prohibits anyone from blocking access to Coastal GasLink worksites.

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Chief Dsta’Hyl, Adam Gagnon, is loaded into a police vehicle after his arrest. Photo by Michael Toledano.

This summer, the BC Environmental Assessment Office confirmed the injunction does not let Coastal GasLink deny access to Wet’suwet’en members. It issued a warning to the company after workers prevented access to Gidimt’en Clan members attempting to monitor pipeline construction on their traditional territory.

An investigation into the incident determined that “cultural monitoring of activity within a territory” constitutes traditional use by the nation and that the person’s stance on the project should not be a determining factor in allowing access.

In the recent video, Dsta’hyl disputed the injunction.

“As Wet’suwet’en, we’re not recognizing that injunction because we’re not a part of B.C., we’re not a part of Canada. That injunction is completely invalid on Wet’suwet’en territory.”

In another video posted Wednesday morning, Dsta’hyl introduced himself and Chief Tsebesa to Coastal GasLink workers as enforcement officers sanctioned by the Likhts’amisyu Clan.

“If you don’t allow us onto our territory, every piece of equipment from here is going to be Tsayu and Likhts’amisyu’s property, because I will do a seizure, simple as that,” Dsta’hyl says.

In a third video, posted Wednesday evening following the arrests, Dsta’hyl says he is “securing pieces of equipment” by removing their batteries.

“None of the executives of CGL will come to the table if we don’t have a few assets to bring them onto the table.... In a couple hours, we should have some bargaining chips,” he says. “We’re dealing with a snake with no head, meaning that CGL, LNG Canada, Enbridge — none of their top executives come and talk to us. They always send little peons. It’s disgraceful.”

Ten heavy machines were decommissioned, the video says.

According to the RCMP, one person was arrested for an outstanding Criminal Code charge of theft and mischief, and the other for being in possession of stolen items from CGL equipment. It added that police will continue to patrol the area surrounding Morice forestry road, where RCMP established a remote detachment when the conflict began early 2019.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Coastal GasLink said it is concerned about workforce safety following the incident.

“On Oct. 24, 2021, a group of opponents confronted our crews on an active construction site,” the statement says. “This group arrived unannounced and was not permitted access to the site due to safety concerns. Our crews offered to facilitate access at another time when it could be made safe to do so.”*

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After the arrests, barriers slowed RCMP and Coastal GasLink vehicles. Photo by Michael Toledano.

As they were arrested, Dsta’hyl and Sutherland-Wilson spoke in a video posted to Instagram.

“It’s an honour to be here on behalf of the Gitxsan people,” Sutherland-Wilson said, raising his fists, which were bound by handcuffs. “I stand here as diplomatic prisoner of the Gitxsan Nation, of the Git’luuhl’um’hetxwit people, and I fully stand behind the Likhts’amisyu Clan government and all those who seek to uphold the traditional laws of the land.”

The Gitxsan have a long history of supporting the Wet’suwet’en. The neighbouring nations worked together on the decade-long Delgamuukw and Gistay’wa court case, which ended with the Supreme Court of Canada confirming title to their respective territories in 1997.

Sutherland-Wilson was the first to begin supporting the Wet’suwet’en at the B.C. legislature in January 2020, a protest of one that steadily grew into a nationwide shut down of transportation and shipping routes.

A news release issued by Likhts’amisyu Clan on Thursday evening said that the RCMP and a convoy of Coastal GasLink vehicles were blocked for several hours on Gidimt’en territory as Dsta’hyl and Sutherland-Wilson were being removed. Supporters felled trees across the road and set them ablaze, the statement said.

It added that the clan was never meaningfully consulted on the project and never gave consent for fossil fuel projects to cross the territory.

Wet’suwet’en members and supporters have also been blocking access to a worksite on Gidimt’en Clan territory where Coastal GasLink plans to drill under the Morice River at Coyote Camp, which was established last month.

Chief Na’Moks said that he was at the recently established camp, 63 kilometres down the Morice West Forest Service Road, when the arrests occurred.

Na’Moks said hereditary Chiefs representing all five Wet’suwet’en clans oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

“This is our nation. We’ve never signed any treaty. We’ve never ceded any land. We’ve never given up our jurisdiction and authority.”

* Story updated on Nov. 1 at 9:17 a.m. to add information from a statement released by Coastal GasLink.  [Tyee]

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