Wet’suwet’en protestors at Unist’ot’en camp and healing centre on the Morice Forest Service Road. UNIST’OT’EN CAMP
Talks between the B.C. government and Indigenous leaders intended to de-escalate the conflict over the Coastal GasLink pipeline project have broken down two days before their planned finish.
The discussions, announced by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs on January 30 and scheduled for seven days, were in response to ongoing conflict over a road blockade that prevented Coastal GasLink crews from proceeding with construction on the 670-kilometre pipeline from northeast B.C. to coastal Kitimat.
According to an unusually timed news release issued Tuesday (February 4) evening by Scott Fraser, minister of indigenous relations and reconciliation, both sides “made a committed effort to find a peaceful resolution to the situation”.
Fraser went on to say: “While we were not successful in finding a resolution to the current situation, we continue to remain open to dialogue with the Wet’suwet’en leadership on this issue.”
Chief Smogelgem, one of the hereditary chiefs, tweeted that the province has refused to revoke permits that it had issued to Coastal GasLink.
Talks have broken down between the Province and the Wet’suwet’en. Efforts to de-escalate the situation on the territories were severed when the Province refused to pull the permits they issued to CGL. CGL felt that further talks with the Province was not enough. #WetsuwetenStrong
Coastal GasLink obtained a B.C. Supreme Court injunction against its pipeline adversaries a month ago. The RCMP, which had set up a checkpoint on the service road and blocked access to the Wet’suwet’en protest camp and Unis’tot’en Healing Center, agreed to put off enforcing the injunction for the duration of the talks.
B.C. premier John Horgan announced on January 27 that Skeena-Bulkley Valley MLA Nathan Cullen would be the intermediary in talks between the province, the RCMP, hereditary chiefs, and Coastal GasLink, among others.
From Teck’s mine to the Wet’suwet’en blockade, grown-up decisions face the PM.
Some big B.C. issues will reveal whether Trudeau got the message after losing his majority and 27 seats, six in B.C. Photo by Adam Scotti, Office of the Prime Minister.
….British Columbia is at the centre of some of the biggest issues that will reveal whether Trudeau got the message after losing his majority and 27 seats, six of them in B.C., in the last election.
Stand-off on reconciliation road
The early signs are not reassuring. Although the Trudeau government has said that it continues “to walk the road of reconciliation” with Indigenous Peoples, that is a hard sell in B.C.
Opposition by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to Coastal GasLink’s $6.6-billion pipeline has shown the same old Ottawa: Wet’suwet’en blockades met by RCMP checkpoints — and official silence from the Trudeau government. Paul Manly, Green Party MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, has already described Trudeau’s response as “political failure.”
A collision on the West Coast is coming between two competing views: A B.C. Supreme Court injunction forbidding the chiefs from denying workers entry to their job site; and the right of the Wet’suwet’en to oppose a project through their territory that they never signed off on.
The PM can’t leave it all to Premier John Horgan to de-escalate the standoff through interlocutors like former NDP MP Nathan Cullen, now a political consultant with StrategyCorp. Given Trudeau’s often-repeated personal interest in the reconciliation file, he will have to walk the walk, after having talked the talk through the megaphone of his fame. A tattoo can only take you so far.
How serious on climate crisis?
One of the reasons the Liberals lost nearly a third of their seats in British Columbia in 2019 is the subpar grade voters gave the PM on his commitment to fight climate change.
With Trudeau’s continued backing for the Trans Mountain Pipeline, a commitment virtually impossible for him to back away from now that he has literally bought in, it is only a matter of time before B.C. protesters, including Indigenous land protectors, confront construction workers on that mega-project.
Does Trudeau send in the Mounties, or maybe even the military, cite white man’s law, or find a way to defuse this ticking time bomb in keeping with a man who says that reconciliation is his most important file?
These particular flash points rest on the bedrock of years of failure on both a new governance structure that would create a third order of government, and the question of land title. No politician of any party has had the courage to face, let alone say and act on that.
Another challenge to the PM’s stated commitment to step up the battle on climate change is fast approaching in Alberta. Will Trudeau greenlight a vast, new bitumen mine in the tarsands by Vancouver-based Teck Resources, a facility “twice the size of Vancouver?”
The $20.6-billion Frontier mine project might put a smile on Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s face, but it would wipe out any chance of Trudeau meeting Canada’s “net-zero” emission targets by 2050. It would also turn him into an eco-hypocrite faster than Donald Trump can tell a lie.
Since a federal/provincial review panel has already decided that the Frontier mine is good on balance, the ball is now in Trudeau’s court. February is the month of decision. What will it be for environmentalists — a Valentine or a rude awakening?
Given what the federal government has just done on the East Coast, there is at least faint hope that the PM could stop the Frontier mine in the interests of the environment, and stepping away from the further development of fossil fuels.
The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board has just revoked the license of Corridor Resources to drill for oil and gas on the “Old Harry” structure in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The 30-kilometre by 10-kilometre area is a potentially rich source of natural gas. It is also part of the Laurentian Channel, the southeast entry point into the Gulf, and an important feeding and migratory area for endangered whales and the leatherback turtle.
The project has attracted passionate opposition because of the potential damage to many species, including the right whale and the blue whale. Activist Mary Gorman broke the good environmental news this way on social media: “The Gulf of St. Lawrence at this moment in history has no petroleum leases. Godspeed, it stays that way.”
…Before someone wins the Stanley Cup, Canadians will have a pretty good idea of whether the PM has changed, or the Shiny Pony has just learned a few new tricks.
Adam Olsen urges new approach to pipeline conflict, while Premier John Horgan visits LNG plant site.
Green interim leader Adam Olsen passed through the RCMP checkpoint and met with Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Dsta’hyl. Photo by Dan Mesec.
It’s a blustery Saturday in northern B.C. and Green party interim leader Adam Olsen has just stepped off a plane in Smithers.
He is heading to the Office of the Wet’suwet’en and a meeting with the hereditary chiefs fighting the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their traditional territory.
Hereditary Chief Na’Moks shows Olsen around the boardroom and explains a map of clan and house group territories. He points out photos of hereditary chiefs who paved the way for the nation’s land claims, and photos of Wet’suwet’en children. They remind the chiefs of their responsibility, Na’Moks said.
“Long-term planning,” said Olsen, the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands who took over as interim party leader when Andrew Weaver stepped down in December.
Dominating the room is a table more than six metres long. It’s from the Smithers courtroom where the landmark Delgamuukw case was launched by the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en in Smithers more than 30 years ago. The case, ultimately decided by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997, was critical in establishing Indigenous rights to traditional territories.
Sitting at that table, Olsen said he doesn’t have any simple answers to resolve the pipeline conflict. He stressed the importance of starting a conversation.
“It really starts with humility and listening and spending time and building relationships and having those conversations. I’ve been honoured to have the invite to come up and do it,” Olsen said. “That invitation means something to me.”
Na’Moks welcomed Olsen’s visit.
“We’re actually quite honoured to have Mr. Olsen here, as the leader of the Green Party of British Columbia,” Na’Moks said. “Previously, we’ve had other leaders in here that would not stand behind their words when they talk to us. We expect better. I know we deserve better.”
Horgan’s tour included a visit to the LNG Canada site in Kitimat that will use gas from the pipeline, but not a meeting with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who requested a meeting with him.
Tensions have been rising in the region since Dec. 31, when the B.C. Supreme Court granted Coastal GasLink a permanent injunction allowing the company access to the pipeline route. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs responded by evicting CGL from the area on Jan. 4 and closing the Morice forestry road, which leads to the pipeline construction site.
On Jan. 13, the RCMP created a checkpoint on the Morice road and limited access to the area.
The same day, Horgan told media the provincial government would not respond to the Wet’suwet’en requests for a meeting.
“This project is proceeding, and the rule of law needs to prevail in B.C.,” he said.
Olsen said Horgan’s position is troubling, especially as in November the legislature unanimously passed Bill 41, which commits the government to accept the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. That includes recognition of the right to participate in any decision-making through their own procedures and law.
“It’s problematic when you refer to the rule of law and Indigenous law is excluded from that,” Olsen said. “I think it’s pretty clear that the Canadian court system has recognized Indigenous law as part of the broader legal context in this country and in this province. We’re sitting in territory where the court decisions reference and explain the very, very sophisticated order that this territory has been governed by since time immemorial.”
“It’s more complex than… I think a lot of people on many sides of this discussion would like it to be,” he said. “There’s this idea that the more simple we can make it, the easier it is that we’re going to find a resolution. And the reality is, the more simple we make it, the less likely it is that we find a resolution.”
“I am here because I believe that we absolutely can find — all of us, all British Columbians, all Canadians — can find peaceful resolutions when we sit down at the table together, get to know everyone, build off the foundation with mutual respect,” Olsen said.
“When you look at this table, this is a grand table. This table represents a very, very sacred representation of what’s been happening in this part of the country for a long time.”
Olsen said his trip is consistent with the BC Greens’ approach to Indigenous concerns.
Olsen, a member of the Tsartlip First Nation, noted the party’s 2017 platform included a commitment to “respecting court decisions, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and to the resolution of Aboriginal Rights and Title issues.”
After the meeting Olsen travelled to the Morice forestry road, an hour’s drive from Smithers. He stopped at kilometre 27, where about a dozen Wet’suwet’en supporters have hastily erected a new camp to provide shelter to visitors just before the RCMP checkpoint controlling access to the pipeline route.
Olsen then passed through the checkpoint and travelled to a Wet’suwet’en camp farther along the road. He’s greeted by a crackling fire, a group of Wet’suwet’en supporters and Hereditary Chief Dsta’hyl of the Likhts’amisyu clan.
Dsta’hyl and Olsen exchange thoughts on resource management.
“I appreciate your words,” Dsta’hyl tells Olsen. “Our elders, they used to say, we should not be raping the Earth, we should be nurturing the Earth. We’ve been telling the government that for years and they don’t hear us.”steward
Olsen met with RCMP at the Smithers detachment Sunday and requested a peaceful resolution to the conflict. He said that officers are “put in an unfortunate situation” of enforcing a complex issue.
He was joined by federal Green Party MP Paul Manly, who arrived in Smithers Sunday and leaves today.SOURCE
The Gidimt’en camp is located south of Smithers in northern British Columbia. Photo by Michael Toledano.
One year after a police raid in northern British Columbia attracted international attention, tensions between Wet’suwet’en land defenders and Coastal GasLink are rising once again.
The company’s recent victory in winning a court decision granting it a permanent injunction against Indigenous protest camps was short-lived.
On Saturday, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs evicted the company from their territory.
“Coastal GasLink [CGL] has violated the Wet’suwet’en law of trespass, and has bulldozed through our territories, destroyed our archaeological sites, and occupied our land with industrial man-camps,” a statement from the chiefs said. “Private security firms and RCMP have continually interfered with the constitutionally protected rights of Wet’suwet’en people to access our lands for hunting, trapping, and ceremony.”
The company confirmed Sunday that it had received the eviction notice.
“We have reached out to better understand their reasons and are hopeful we can find a mutually agreeable path forward,” it said in a statement.
The company said trees had been felled across a road, making it impassable. “While it is unclear who felled these trees, this action is a clear violation of the Interlocutory Injunction as it prevents our crews from accessing work areas.”
Molly Wickham (Sledyo’), one of the land defenders, said last month she feared the then-impending court decision would bring more conflict.
As Wickham stirred a simmering moose stew on a wood stove in the cook tent at Gidimt’en camp, she worried the judgement might bring a repeat of last year’s RCMP raid.
On Jan. 7, 2019, RCMP officers forced their way past a barricade at the camp on the Morice West Forest Service Road. Police were enforcing an injunction obtained by CGL, which is building a $6.2-billion pipeline to take natural gas to a planned liquefied natural gas project in Kitimat.
Wickham and her family had recently moved to Gidimt’en, a new camp about 60 kilometres south of Smithers. They were occupying the territory where their ancestors had lived since time immemorial.
“Then the RCMP came and destroyed everything,” she said. “It’s unnerving that might be our reality again.”
The camp and its structures have been rebuilt in the past year. Shipping pallets have been used to create palisades that hide the presence of police patrols that have continued throughout 2019.
While the injunction order is not yet public, it’s expected to reflect the proposals from CGL. In addition to banning protesters from interfering with the pipeline company’s access to the area, the document allows CGL to remove cabins that are “impeding or preventing access to the worksites” with 72-hours’ posted notice.
Wickham said that CGL had expressed interest in using the roadside pullout where the Gidimt’en camp is located as a staging area for construction crews and equipment.
Known as Gidimt’en Access Point, the camp is the second constructed along this remote forestry road. The Unist’ot’en Healing Centre, built a decade earlier, is 20 kilometres farther west along the Morice Forest Service Road.
The story of the camp goes back to Dec. 14, 2018, when the B.C. Supreme Court first granted an interim injunction allowing CGL to access the territory.
Three days later, with unanimous support from hereditary chiefs of the five Wet’suwet’en clans, the Gidimt’en joined the Unist’ot’en in occupying the land. On Dec. 21, the company’s injunction was amended to include all protest camps in the area.
By Jan. 6, everyone was on edge. There were reports of dozens of RCMP vehicles mobilizing in the nearby communities of Smithers and Houston. The buildup of forces was quickly condemned by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the BC Civil Liberties Association.
It was the grader that tipped off Wickham. In the wake of a wet and heavy snowfall, the maintenance vehicle had scraped the road’s surface smooth all the way to Gidimt’en camp. Then it turned around.
“They weren’t keeping the roads nicely maintained for us,” she said. The children that had so recently played in camp were taken to stay with family.
“I don’t think anybody slept that night,” Wickham said.
By mid-morning on Jan. 7, the police had arrived. Beyond the barricade, at least two-dozen RCMP and industry vehicles lined the road. Two snipers were in place.
Amidst screaming and the sound of helicopters circling overhead, Wickham leaned her back against the gate and sank to the ground. She thought she might throw up.
“It was really clear that they didn’t care,” she said.
What Wickham didn’t know then was that the RCMP were prepared to use lethal force in the operation to remove the barricades preventing CGL from accessing the pipeline route. The RCMP’s plans were revealed last month by a report in the Guardian.
In the late afternoon, officers breached the gate and arrested 14 people, taking them to Houston for processing and then on to Prince George, where they were held overnight.
In the following days, thousands of people marched in rallies across Canada and around the world supporting the Wet’suwet’en. While media attention on the conflict may have waned over the past year, the RCMP presence on the Morice forest road has not.
Here’s an overview of what’s unfolded over the past year.
On Jan. 10, 2019 three days after police breached the gate, the Unist’ot’en allowed workers to enter the camp peacefully after hereditary chiefs reached an agreement with RCMP. Posted on the camp’s website was a message: “This is not over.”
“The agreement we made allows Coastal GasLink to temporarily work behind the Unist’ot’en gate. This will continue to be a waste of their time and resources as they will not be building a pipeline in our traditional territory,” it reads.
The same day, RCMP announced there would be a continued police presence on the Morice forest road and a remote detachment known as a Community-Industry Safety Office that would remain in place “as long as is deemed necessary.” Last week an RCMP spokesperson declined to say how many officers are stationed at the detachment and described police resources as “scalable based on circumstances.”
On Jan. 28, with RCMP standing by, workers for CGL used heavy machinery to tear down structures at the Gidimt’en camp.
On March 16, John Horgan became the first B.C. premier to attend a feast on Wet’suwet’en territory in Witset (formerly Moricetown). The premier promised to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“This fall, we’ll be tabling legislation to give meaning to [Indigenous] rights that were given by the United Nations but not yet picked up in Canada or in British Columbia,” he told more than 100 people gathered, including Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser, Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson and then-federal MPs Nathan Cullen and Murray Rankin.
On April 15, civil charges against all 14 people arrested on Jan. 7 were dropped. Two criminal assault charges (one not laid until October) remain and are expected to be before the court this month.
On April 24, at United Nations headquarters in New York City, Unist’ot’en spokesperson Freda Huson (Howilhkat) and Chief Na’Moks of the Tsayu clan addressed the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and described human rights violations in B.C.
“Indigenous legal orders and Indigenous systems of governance must be recognized and respected and not trampled upon in the interests of corporate development,” Na’Moks told the UN.
On July 22, Wickham filed civil charges in B.C. Supreme Court against CGL and its contractors for special damages, aggravated damages, punitive damages and costs with interest for the Jan. 28 demolition of camp structures. The claims are still before the court.
“These avenues of compensation do not even begin to approach the cost of the violence of these companies invading traditional Wet’suwet’en territory. The spiritual and emotional traumas these companies have inflicted on the Wet’suwet’en are tremendous and grave,” the Gidimt’en said in a news release.
On Aug. 1, CGL revealed that archaeological impact assessments had not been completed for two areas, totalling 32,400 square metres, prior to the start of construction.
On Oct. 4, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs issued a statement demanding CGL cease work after several cultural sites were destroyed. “Since February 2019, CGL has destroyed numerous archaeological heritage sites in Wet’suwet’en territory. In addition to potential village sites, portions of the ancient Kweese War Trail, accompanying culturally modified trees, and potential burial sites have been altered and destroyed by CGL work crews.”
“The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs believe that a stop-work order must be enacted immediately to prevent further loss of Wet’suwet’en heritage by the negligence of Coastal GasLink. The OW [Office of the Wet’suwet’en] takes the loss of Wet’suwet’en cultural heritage and archaeological sites very seriously, as should any company or government agency working within Wet’suwet’en territories.”
On Oct. 24, Fraser introduced Bill 41 the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, in the legislature. The bill passed unanimously on Nov. 28. It made 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.
On Dec. 20, the Guardian published an explosive report revealing that RCMP officers were told to use “lethal overwatch” and to “use as much violence toward the gate as you want” during the Jan. 7 police action.
On Dec. 31, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in favour of CGL’s temporary injunction, making it permanent until pipeline work is completed. Lawyer Michael Ross, who represented those opposing the injunction, says it’s too soon to say whether those named in the injunction will appeal. He added that the decision was disappointing in its lack of recognition for Indigenous law.
“I think, from my client’s point of view, this judge should have done more in recognition of their law, and could have done more,” Ross said. “We’ve seen other judges do better, even when they haven’t taken the Indigenous perspective… This is doubly disappointing.”
On Jan. 3, 2020 CGL was notified by Dark House, also known as the Unist’ot’en, that it intends to terminate an access agreement effective Jan. 10.
On Jan. 4, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs issued an eviction notice to the company.