At least 29 people blocking construction of the controversial Coastal Gas Link pipeline in British Columbia were cleared out after dozens of RCMP officers moved in on them over a two-day period last week.
After last week’s arrests, not a single land defender remains in any of the construction zones along the 670 km CGL pipeline that runs throughout the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en nation. About 200 km of pipeline has already been installed.
“They invaded our territory,” said Wet’suwet’en member Eve Saint, whose father is hereditary Chief Dini Ze’ Woos’s. “This is not over.”
A contingent of Wet’suwet’en people and allies have been protesting the pipeline’s construction for the past three years.
CGL consulted with the community’s elected council prior to construction. On November 14, Wet’suwet’en First Nation issued a public statement condemning the actions of the Gidimt’en Clan after an eviction notice was sent to CGL and RCMP at the headwaters of the Morice River.
The elected council said in their statement that the eviction notice does not “represent the collective views of the Clan or of most Wet’suwet’en people. Even though we are also members of the Gidimt’en Clan, the protesters at the “Coyote Camp” and other protest sites have never consulted us about their actions and cannot claim to represent us or any other members of the First Nation.”
Saint says a number of hereditary chiefs are opposed to the pipeline, including her father.
“There is a division, yes,” she said. “The hereditary chiefs have the final say. And also, other chiefs cannot have say over another one’s territory. No one can tell my father what to do on his territory or how to use his territory, so when he says he gives no consent, he does not give consent to CGL to go through and do work on the territory. Really, it doesn’t matter what these other wing chiefs…they have no say over another one’s territory.”
According to a Supreme Court decision in 1997, the Supreme Court established that the Wet’suwet’en people never extinguished title to their traditional territory. Known as the Delgamuukw Decision, the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en First Nations took the provincial government to court to determine jurisdiction over 58,000 square kilometres of land and water in northwest BC.
In 1991, provincial courts initially ruled that any rights the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan had over the land were extinguished when BC became a part of Canada in 1871. However that ruling was appealed and made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada — which found that aboriginal title could not be extinguished, confirming oral testimony is a legal form of evidence, and that aboriginal title includes land and rights to extract resources from the land.
The Delgamuukw decision also established that the Wet’suwet’en nation and its’ hereditary chiefs have a system of law that predates the elected band council and that the hereditary chiefs, under Wet’suwet’en law, are responsible for their ancestral lands.
The elected band council and chief only have say over what’s on-reserve, said Saint.
“CGL has not properly consulted the rightful titleholders of the land. This is where the arguments and debates come in.”
Saint says a video of this weekend’s arrests is expected to be released.
“The arrests were violent, especially toward (land defenders) Logan (Staats) and Skyler (Williams),” said Saint.
Staats and Williams are both prominent land defenders mostly associated with the Land Back Lane housing development reclamation in Caledonia. Staats is also an award-winning musician.
“He (Staats) looked pretty roughed up,” said Saint. “They threw down Logan by his braids and punched him in the head a few times.”
Cities across the country saw solidarity protests and rallies over the weekend after the RCMP enforced an injunction last Thursday to clear land defenders from the Gidimt’en Checkpoint, a camp stationed at kilometer 44 of the pipeline route.
About five of the people arrested last week remain in jail, said Saint, while the others were released on conditions that they cannot access certain areas of the Wet’suwet’en traditional territory unless it’s for cultural or hunting purposes.
Two journalists were also arrested, drawing condemnation from members of parliament and Indigenous Affairs Minister Marc Miller, saying freedom of the press is fundamental to democracy.
“They took out the media first,” said Saint, who has been following the events from home in Toronto.
Edmonton, Toronto, Hamilton, and Caledonia were among the cities where solidarity protests sprang up.
A number of Six Nations people shut down the Hwy. 6 bypass in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en.
The group has set up a camp at Argyle Street and Hwy. 6 and is calling for supplies, such as firewood and warm clothing, as they remain camped out along the bypass.
Despite the clearance of land defenders from the construction zones, Saint says the fight against CGL is not over.
“We need people to stand up and fight for this,” said Saint.