Wet’suwet’en await ‘imminent’ RCMP action as Coastal GasLink negotiations break down

Sabina Dennis holds her hands up as RCMP tactical teams approach the Gidimt’en checkpoint on Wet’suwet’en territory on Jan. 7, 2019. Photo by Michael Toledano

Surveillance helicopters circling overhead. Police officers, some carrying tactical gear, pouring into the surrounding towns. An elder arrested, then released, for trying to go past a police checkpoint.

On the ground along a remote forest road in northern B.C., members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation say police presence has been ramping up, despite assurances from the RCMP that officers would stand down as Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and officials from the British Columbia government met to try to de-escalate the ongoing dispute over the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

On Tuesday night, the hereditary chiefs announced that the talks had broken down, leaving the looming possibility that the RCMP will “imminently” move into the nation’s territory. Tensions in the region have been high since January 2019, when the RCMP violently arrested 14 people while enforcing a court order to remove the Wet’suwet’en from the path of the pipeline’s construction.

“Efforts to de-escalate the situation on the territories were severed when the province refused to pull the permits they issued to (Coastal GasLink),” said Smogelgem, a Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief of the Fireweed Clan, on Twitter.

Coastal GasLink, a natural gas pipeline, would run through unceded Wet’suwet’en territory over the objections of the nation’s hereditary chiefs. Members of the nation have set up several camps along the Morice West Forest Service Road, about 1,200 kilometres north of Vancouver, to reoccupy their traditional lands and block resource projects.

Before the chiefs announced discussions with the province, the RCMP had been preparing to enforce a second injunction the B.C. Supreme Court granted to Coastal GasLink on Dec. 31. After seven days of talks known as Wiggus — the Wet’suwet’en word for respect — were announced, RCMP confirmed more officers were still being deployed in the area.

In a press release late Tuesday, the hereditary chiefs said a mediator had been in touch with the pipeline company after two days of talks.

“Coastal GasLink declined to see this discussion resulting in progress,” the statement said. “Therefore, the enforcement of the injunction zone is imminent.

The chiefs also urged peace, saying they remain committed to the Wiggus process and “will continue discussions with the Province of British Columbia.” A representative didn’t immediately return a call from National Observer.

In a press release, B.C. Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser, emphasized the need for safety.

Talks between the Wet’suwet’en the B.C. government ended without resolution late on the evening of Feb. 4. The community fears violence may be imminent as RCMP stage in nearby towns. #bcpoli

“It was very clear from our discussions that all of us came together in good faith to try to find a way forward together,” the statement said. “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.”

TC Energy, which owns Coastal GasLink, said in a statement that its senior leadership had been in nearby Smithers, B.C. to meet with the hereditary chiefs “if required,” but “unfortunately, we were unable to meet with the chiefs.” The company said it must quikcly resume construction to meet its various business commitments.

“In the coming days, Coastal GasLink will resume construction activities,” the statement read. “It is our hope that the resumption of construction activities occurs in a lawful and peaceful manner that maintains the safety of all in the Morice River area.”

The community now fears more violence may be imminent ⁠— especially as at least three of the same commanding officers who spearheaded last year’s RCMP efforts appear to be again leading the charge.

“They’re exactly the same oppressive violent force of oppression that they were on Jan. 7 last year,” said Molly Wickham, also known as Sleydo, a spokesperson for the Gidimt’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

“They haven’t learned a thing.”

Wickham was one of those arrested last year. In an interview Tuesday, she said three of the same commanding officers from 2019 ⁠— John Brewer, Robert Pikola and Dave Attfield ⁠— are still around now.

“People recognize them,” she said, adding that the hereditary chiefs have unsuccessfully asked for those commanders to be reassigned. “They know who they are, because (the officers) were responsible for what happened last year.”

The RCMP confirmed that Brewer is still deployed in the area, but “we respectfully decline in identifying any other officers from incidents that took place last year,” RCMP spokesperson Staff. Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said in an email Tuesday.

According to a report in the Guardian, the officers leading the 2019 effort were prepared at the time to use deadly force against the Wet’suwet’en.

RCMP Silver Command John Brewer and Gold Command Dave Attfield, who oversaw the 2019 actions against the We’suwet’en checkpoint, attempt to visit a Wet’suwet’en camp on Feb. 11, 2019. Photo by Michael Toledano

‘Lethal overwatch’

Citing detailed notes from an RCMP strategy session held before the RCMP swept the Wet’suwet’en checkpoint, the British newspaper reported that snipers were present, and officers had been prepared to use “lethal overwatch” ⁠— a police term that is understood to mean an officer is prepared to use lethal force. They were also instructed to use “as much violence… as you want” in “sterilizing (the) site,” the Guardian said.

The notes were stamped with Pikola’s name, the Guardian said.

The RCMP has strongly denied the Guardian’s reporting, saying lethal overwatch “does not indicate action other than observation.” That statement contrasts with a 2010 memo produced by the B.C. RCMP., and a review of military and law enforcement literature in both Canada and the US conducted by the Guardian.

The RCMP has also said snipers were sent as part of larger emergency response teams that are generally deployed all at once, according to a statement released after the article was published. Initially, the RCMP had said it wasn’t able to locate or verify the documents referenced by the Guardian; the organization has since found them, said Shoihet.

“We would also add that information was taken out of context and (there was) significant work done with respect to discussions, meetings, protocols, cultural training, etc.,” said Shoihet in an email.

“We have no intention in contributing to the tensions, but will ensure that allegations or misinformation is corrected when it comes to our actions. As we have stated repeatedly, we have not and will not take action to enforce the B.C. Supreme Court-ordered injunction by removing the obstructions on the Morice West Forest Service Road during this time.”

Brewer in particular is a “veteran, decorated police officer who himself is Indigenous,” though not Wet’suwet’en, Shoihet added. “We have well-trained and experienced personnel, including our operational commanders, overseeing our efforts prior to last year’s enforcement and since.”

Wickham said learning about Wet’suwet’en culture and employing Indigenous officers still doesn’t give the RCMP the right to remove community members from their home.

“Seeing a brown face or another Indigenous person harassing us and oppressing us in those same ways for the benefit of profit and ongoing colonization is quite frustrating, and by no means does it de-escalate the situation,” Wickham said.

“It’s a sad, sad thing… it’s so offensive that they’d even bring it up.”

Lady Chainsaw, a supporter of Unist’ot’en, on the bridge that marks the boundary to the territory of the house within the Wet’suwet’en Nation, on Jan. 26, 2020. Photo by Michael Toledano.

‘We are under duress’

The case of the Wet’suwet’en and Coastal GasLink exposes a stark divide between the traditional Wet’suwet’en legal system and Canada’s colonial legal system. Under Wet’suwet’en law, authority over the nation’s 22,000 square kilometres of unceded territory lies with hereditary chiefs from five clans, who oppose the pipeline. But TC Energy, which owns the pipeline project, received approval to build the pipeline from some elected band councils, ⁠a governing body created by Canada’s colonial Indian Act, which have jurisdiction over reserve lands but not the disputed territory.

A 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision affirmed that the provincial government can’t extinguish the hereditary chiefs’ right to their land. However, the court also sent the case back for a second trial that hasn’t yet happened, leaving key questions unresolved.

Stating concerns about safety after the raid last January, the hereditary chiefs struck a temporary deal to allow Coastal GasLink to access the territory for pre-construction work.

But tensions smoldered in the months that followed, and were re-ignited with the Dec. 20 publication of the Guardian article, and the court injunction granted on Dec. 31

Also citing public safety concerns, the RCMP set up a blockade along the forest road on Jan. 13 and have restricted access to the area, prompting complaints from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. In the weeks since, the Wet’suwet’en community says it has felt under siege.

The RCMP initially denied that it was surveilling Wet’suwet’en camps by air ⁠— until photo evidence surfaced, as reported by Vice. Over the course of several days, community members posted reports on social media of large numbers of police staging in towns near the service road.

Michael Toledano@M_Tol

RCMP helicopter again circling @UnistotenCamp and Gidimt’en Checkpoint this morning. Photographed here over the Wedzin Kwa river and the bunkhouse.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Then, on Friday night, a Gidimt’en Clan elder was arrested and released without being charged after she tried to pass the police blockade without giving RCMP her ID. Carmen Nikal, 73, has been an adopted member of the Gidim’ten Clan’s Cas Yex house for four decades, Gidimt’en Clan said.

“Good faith discussions between the Wet’suwet’en and the Province cannot occur while we are under duress, and while our families and guests face the threat of police violence,” the clan said in a press release.

In a tweet Tuesday, Smogelgem ⁠said “it feels like reconciliation is being brutally killed here in Wet’suwet’en territory.”


RCMP harassment and build up continues while I sit in talks with the Province. There are a lot of sceptics in the room. There are good reasons for that. The have survived the “Rules of Law” since contact and have become

“But out on the territory, people are strong and gaining strength every single day from being on the land,” she said.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of fear. There’s a lot of strength.” SOURCE

Cuthand: Modern-day treaty needed to end unrest

The party of Diefenbaker, Clarke and Mulroney is now acting like a right-wing fringe supporting vigilantism and racism.

Columnist Doug Cuthand

Columnist Doug Cuthand Liam Richards / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The crises around the pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory and the subsequent outpouring of support nationwide have isolated the Conservatives and placed them as the odd man out in the House of Commons.

On Tuesday, Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau’s speech was heckled by the Tories to the point that the speaker had to appeal for calm. When Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer spoke to rebut the prime minister’s comments, his speech was negative and clearly on the side of the pipeline developers. He called for the prime minister to end the pipeline protests and that the protesters should “check their privilege,” whatever that meant.

Meanwhile the other parties in the House including the Bloc Quebecois, the NDP and the Greens all supported the position that the government must proceed with dialogue and negotiations to settle the matter. They got together to discuss it further, but the Conservatives were not invited. It was obvious that Scheer would have nothing to offer and be a distraction.

The Conservatives’ position was clear: They wanted the government to take action to remove the blockades. While the Conservatives constantly refer to the rule of law, there is a long-standing practice in Canada that police forces are independent and not to be directed by politicians or a political party. To do otherwise would lead to a slippery slope toward a police state and totalitarianism.

Speaking of the rule of law, the Conservatives have ignored the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled that most of British Columbia has never been ceded by treaty and the title remains with the First Nations. In this case, the rule of law is on the side of the Wet’suwet’en.

West of Edmonton, a group of vigilantes took it upon themselves to take down a blockade of a railway right of way. This drew a tweet from Conservative leadership hopeful Peter MacKay, “Glad to see a couple Albertans with a pickup truck can do more for our economy in an afternoon than Justin Trudeau could do in four years.” This support for vigilantism was later taken down, but it is a reflection of the attitude that is prevalent in the Conservative camp.

Which leads me to ask, “What happened to the Conservatives?” The party of John Diefenbaker, Joe Clarke and Brian Mulroney is now acting like a right-wing fringe supporting vigilantism and racism. I doubt that those gentlemen would be welcome in today’s Conservative Party.

In the past, relations between the First Nations and the Conservative Party were usually positive. Mulroney supported the Treaty Land Entitlement Agreement for Saskatchewan which addressed a long-standing injustice over treaty land and was the largest land settlement in southern Canada.

In 1962, Diefenbaker extended voting rights to First Nations. His minister of Indian Affairs was Helen Fairclough who was Canada’s first female cabinet minister. Many First Nations voters, particularly in Saskatchewan, were Conservative party supporters.

Things changed for the worst in the 1980s and ’90s when the Reform Party came to prominence. It was a western-based party and its members discovered that attacking chiefs and First Nations was red meat to their base, so they pursued it. Rather than look at the potential of First Nations support, they chose to exploit us and our leadership.

The Reformers rebranded, and the Canadian Alliance united with the Progressive Conservatives. The Progressive was dropped, and the party became more like the old Reform Party. Gradually the Progressives or Red Tories were either forced out or left. The Conservatives are now a parochial right-wing party with roots in the West.

Canada is a nation that is built on the rule of law and common sense. Before a railway could be built across the new nation, the government had to make treaty with the First Nations of the plains. This process stopped in the mountains because the American settlers in British Columbia refused to see the need to deal fairly with the First Nations.

Today Canada is paying the price and the politicians and those in power know it. Now Canada must make a modern-day treaty that is fair to all sides or we will continue to have confrontation and unrest as the people defend their land against outside development. SOURCE


Meeting between Trudeau and cabinet ministers to discuss how to handle anti-pipeline protest underway

Prime Minister is foregoing today’s planned trip to Barbados

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the Incident Response Group will talk about how to handle the protests against a natural gas pipeline that crosses Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia. (Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is meeting with an emergency group Monday to discuss anti-pipeline blockades that have shut down swaths of the country’s train system.

Trudeau says the Incident Response Group will talk about how to handle the protests against a natural gas pipeline that crosses Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are opposed to the project.

The group was described upon its inception in 2018 as a “dedicated, emergency committee that will convene in the event of a national crisis or during incidents elsewhere that have major implications for Canada.”

Doug Ford asks for ‘immediate action’

Trudeau is foregoing today’s planned trip to Barbados, where he was slated to meet with Caribbean leaders to campaign for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council.

He faced criticism last week over his presence in Africa and Europe as the protests were beginning, so Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne will represent Canada in Trudeau’s place.

There’s mounting political pressure for Trudeau to put an end to the blockades.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford spoke with Trudeau late Sunday and issued a statement urging the federal government to take action.

“Premier Ford asked the prime minister to take immediate action and provide detail on a clear plan to ensure an end to this national issue,” the statement read.

Scheer wants end to ‘illegal blockades’

Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said last week that Trudeau should tell Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to use his authority under the RCMP Act to end what he called the “illegal blockades.”

But Trudeau shot back, arguing that Canada is not a country “where politicians get to tell the police what to do in operational matters.”

A protester stands between Mohawk Warrior Society flags at a rail blockade in Tyendinaga, near Belleville, Ont., on Sunday. The protest is in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the LNG pipeline in northern British Columbia. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)


Thus far, the public-facing part of Trudeau’s plan appears to centre on discussions and negotiations, rather than police action.

Carolyn Bennett, the minister for Crown-Indigenous relations, is due to meet today with her British Columbia counterpart, Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser. Bennett is also ready to meet with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, should they give the go-ahead.

‘Did we learn from Ipperwash?’

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller met with Mohawk Nation representatives for hours on Saturday and said they made “modest progress.” The focus of their talks, he said, was on the pipeline in northern B.C. rather than the blockade on Tyendinaga territory near Belleville, Ont., which was at that point in its 10th day.

In an appearance on CTV’s political show Question Period, Miller pointed to the Oka and Ipperwash crises as reasons why dialogue is preferable to police intervention.

A police officer died during a police raid in 1990 when Mohawks at the Kahnawake reserve south of Montreal blocked the Mercier Bridge, which became the Oka crisis. Five years later at Ipperwash, Ont., one man was killed during a standoff over a land claim by Chippewa protesters outside a provincial park.

“Thirty years ago, police moved in in Kanesatake and someone died,” Miller said. “And did we learn from that? Did we learn from Ipperwash?”

But while Ontario Provincial Police have so far declined to enforce injunctions and remove protesters from that blockade, RCMP in B.C. have made more than two dozen arrests while enforcing similar injunctions near worksites for the pipeline at the centre of the dispute. SOURCE


Wall Street Invading Wet’suwet’en Territory


t’en fishing site on Bulkley River and the entrance of Moricetown Canyon, in Moricetown, British Columbia, Canada. Photograph Source: Jerome Charaoui – FAL

The uprising across Canada in support of Wet’suwet’en First Nation land defenders shows no sign of stopping. As of February 11, ports, bridges, rail lines, highways and roads have been blockaded across much of the country by solidarity protesters, who have also occupied the offices of politicians and at least one bank.

These actions were prompted by the RCMP’s invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory on February 5, after which they began arresting Indigenous members opposed to the 670 kilometers (416-mile), $6.2 billion Coastal GasLink pipeline being constructed on their unceded territory in B.C.

The Wet’suwet’en have never signed a treaty and in 1997 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that they hold “Aboriginal title” to the land on which the pipeline is being built.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline will carry fracked natural gas from northeastern B.C. to Kitimat, B.C., where a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal is being built by LNG Canada – a partnership of Shell, Petronas, PetroChina, Mitsubishi, and Korean Gas.

While protesters have rightly condemned the RCMP actions, they (and the corporate media) have largely overlooked the role of a major player in this whole debacle: Wall Street titan Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., better known as KKR.

Mega-Rich Titan

On December 26, 2019 KKR announced the signing of a “definitive agreement” to acquire – along with Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) – a 65 percent equity interest in the Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project from TC Energy.

Only days later, on December 31, a B.C. Supreme Court judge extended an injunction to stop Wet’suwet’en members from blocking access to Coastal GasLink’s work camp. The injunction will reportedly be operative until the pipeline project is completed.

KKR is mega-rich, even by Wall Street standards. It has US$208 billion in assets under management and US$153 billion in fee-paying assets under management. [1] AIMCo has $108.2 billion in assets that it manages on behalf of 31 Alberta pension, endowment and government funds. [2]

KKR is what is now called a “private equity” firm – a rebranding of what used to be called “leveraged buyout firms,” which pump money into struggling companies and then re-sell them for major profits. In 2014, KKR opened an office in Calgary with a $2 billion fund to find Canadian energy investments, especially in unconventional oil and gas projects.

In its December 26, 2019 press release, KKR’s Brandon Freiman stated that “Coastal GasLink represents our third investment in infrastructure supporting Canada’s natural gas industry.”

When contacted, KKR’s media office told me that the “other projects Brandon was referring to in his quote are Veresen Midstream and SemCams Midstream.”


Buying Up Midstream

In oil-industry parlance, midstream refers to the equipment and pipelines that transport oil and gas from “upstream” production facilities to the “downstream” users such as refineries or LNG terminals.

Shortly after KKR set up its Calgary office, in December 2014 Encana Corp. sold its natural gas pipeline and processing assets in Western Canada’s Montney region to Veresen Inc. and KKR for $412 million. The deal allowed Encana to concentrate on drilling and fracking (“upstream”), while Veresen Midstream LP handles transportation and expansion of infrastructure. The assets sold in this deal “comprise those in the Dawson, B.C. area operated by Encana independently and in a partnership it has with Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp.” [3] At about the same time, the partnership committed to invest $5 billion of new midstream expansion in the Montney region.

By October 2015, that expansion included Veresen’s announcement of approval of the $860 million Sunrise Gas Plant, which can process 400 million cubic feet per day. Located near Dawson Creek, the Sunrise Gas Plant has been described as “the largest gas plant to be commissioned in western Canada in the last 30 years,” with Veresen Midstream’s President and CEO David Fitzpatrick stating that his company’s “footprint in the Montney will grow substantially.” [4]

KKR also entered into a joint venture with Energy Transfer on SemCams Midstream, which owns and operates six gas processing plants and 700 miles of natural gas pipelines in the Montney and Duvernay areas of Western Canada.

You may recall that Energy Transfer is the company involved in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests of 2016, when NoDAPL indigenous protesters from the Standing Rock reservation in the U.S. were met with severe corporate and state-supported opposition.

So KKR not only has a primary position in the midstream natural gas industry of Western Canada, it also has scandalously partnered with a company well-versed in stopping indigenous protests.


Equally odious, in 2007 KKR teamed up with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on something called the Green Portfolio Program through which participating companies could “develop eco-beneficial products and services and develop ways to grow revenue through environmental improvements.” [5]

That decade-long greenwashing effort has especially been useful for KKR’s financial investment in fracking. In 2012, Forbes magazine (not known for its radical environmentalism) singled out KKR in a piece called “Guess Who’s Fueling the Fracking Boom?”, revealing how KKR has been pumping money into expanded fracking by upstream drillers, and then flipping the companies in sales deals that bring billions in profits to KKR. [6]

Perhaps not surprisingly, KKR Global Institute’s Chair is David Petraeus, the former Director of the CIA, who has wholeheartedly endorsed fracking. [7]

In the KKR Global Institute’s latest report (issued on January 15, 2020), the company touts itself for partnering “with companies that mitigate climate change, enhance resilient development [and] protect water quality … As a result, ‘doing well by doing good’ remains a growing investment theme in KKR in 2020.” [8]

LNG Canada in Kitimat, where the Coastal GasLink pipeline will bring the fracked natural gas, has claimed that it will be the lowest carbon-emitting LNG plant in the world, and that LNG exports will substitute for dirtier fuels like coal. But critics such as the Pembina Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives have seriously questioned this notion of LNG as a so-called “bridge fuel” to a low-carbon future, especially because of the methane leaks implicit in upstream, midstream and downstream processes. In terms of the climate emergency, methane is dozens of times more polluting than CO2.

Indeed, The Georgia Straight recently highlighted a statement by Stanford University professor Mark Z. Jacobson about methane leaks from an ExxonMobil fracking site: “Next time some paid liar in the fossil fuel industry insists fracked gas is helping solve the climate crisis, remind them a single @exxonmobil fracking site ‘leaked more methane in 20 days than all but 3 European nations over an entire year’.” [9]

Paid Liars

Wall Street’s KKR private equity titan appears to be packed with some very well-paid liars, who croon about “doing well by doing good” while invading Wet’suwet’en territory with their Coastal GasLink project and watching while the RCMP carry out the arrests. It’s time the focus should be placed on them. SOURCE

Feeling ‘under siege,’ Wet’suwet’en chiefs demand investigation into RCMP’s blockade

RCMP have been blocking access to Wet’suwet’en Territory since Jan. 13, 2020. Photo from Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Facebook

They set up a checkpoint, citing concerns about public safety. It goes on for weeks. Police officers bar people from entering the neighbourhood ⁠— journalists, people who live there, people bringing essential supplies, their lawyers ⁠— using rules that seem to change from day to day.

That’s the situation Wet’suwet’en people have been in since the RCMP set up a checkpoint along the forest service road that leads to their Northeastern British Columbia territory, said Harsha Walia, the executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA). The police blockade, set up on January 13, is the latest re-escalation of a long-standing battle over the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which would run through unceded Wet’suwet’en territory over the objections of the nation’s hereditary chiefs.

“The Wet’suwet’en understandably feel under siege,” Walia said at a press conference Thursday, calling for a public interest investigation into the RCMP’s conduct. MORE


RCMP Limits on Access to Wet’suwet’en Land Illegal and Arbitrary, Groups Say
Coastal GasLink pipeline still lacks key environmental authorization in contested Wet’suwet’en territory
VIDEO: RCMP denying lawyers access to visit Wet’suwet’en territory
RCMP says helicopters can go into Wet’suwet’en territory but cannot bring passengers

What we mean when we say Indigenous land is ‘unceded’

Inside the Gidimt’en Checkpoint on Wet’suwet’en territory in December 2019. The camp was dismantled by Coastal GasLink contractors in early 2019, and then rebuilt and reoccupied. Photo by Michael Toledano

You might be living on unceded land.

To be more precise: the Maritimes, nearly all of British Columbia and a large swath of eastern Ontario and Quebec, which includes Ottawa, sit on territories that were never signed away by the Indigenous people who inhabited them before Europeans settled in North America. In other words, this land was stolen.

What to do about it, however, is deeply complex ⁠— and legal questions about how to handle claims to unceded land have become a subject of public discussion as members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in northeastern British Columbia have reoccupied their territory and attempted to block the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Similar cases over Indigenous land titles are moving through courts across Canada.

Canada’s Constitution is clear that Indigenous land rights exist, said Benjamin Ralston, a lecturer and researcher at the Indigenous Law Centre at the University of Saskatchewan. But in practice, fights over exactly what those rights are can take decades to resolve in court or in treaty negotiations, revealing “cognitive dissonance” in the system.

“The real problem is, what do we do about it now, while these slow processes are proceeding?” he said.

In the case of the Wet’suwet’en and Coastal GasLink, at issue is a divide between the traditional Wet’suwet’en legal system, Canada’s legal system, those who have stood to protect the land in question and those who want to see the pipeline built.

Under Wet’suwet’en law, authority over the nation’s 22,000 square kilometres of unceded territory lies with hereditary chiefs from five clans, who oppose the pipeline. However, there are also five elected band councils created by Canada’s colonial Indian Act, and some of the councils have supported the project.

A 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision affirmed that the provincial government can’t extinguish Wet’suwet’en rights to their land. However, the court also sent the case back from a second trial that hasn’t yet happened, leaving key questions unresolved.

Last year, the RCMP violently arrested Wet’suwet’en people and supporters in the disputed area, with the Guardian reporting earlier this year that police had been prepared to use lethal force. Earlier this month, the RCMP set up a checkpoint to control access to the area after a B.C Supreme Court judge extended an injunction to force out the Wet’suwet’en in the camps and allow construction on the pipeline to continue.

“We are not trespassing,” Ta’Kaiya Blaney, one of several Victoria, B.C., activists arrested and released after a protest supporting the Wet’suwet’en earlier this week, said in a video posted on Facebook.

Wet’suwet’en Nation territory in northeastern British Columbia is just one example of a dispute over unceded land.

“Coastal GasLink is trespassing, those cops are trespassing. They have no jurisdiction to violate Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous youth on stolen land.”

‘Duty to consult’ an imperfect solution

The Wet’suwet’en are far from the only ones asserting their title to their traditional lands.

In Nova Scotia, Mi’kmaq people have pushed for recognition of their unceded territory. In Ottawa, several Algonquin groups claim the land that Parliament Hill and the Supreme Court of Canada sit on. And in 2014, Tsilhqot’in Nation in B.C. became the first to prove title to their land in court.

In 2017, about 140 groups of Indigenous people who never signed treaties were negotiating with Canada’s federal government, the New York Times reported.

Several court cases have reaffirmed that the Canadian government has a duty to consult Indigenous people in cases that will impact their rights, which is meant to be an extra protection while land-title cases get resolved. But that protection is imperfect: duty to consult “is not necessarily going to give you the full benefit of stopping a project,” Ralston said.

In general, courts have also been reluctant to allow Indigenous land claims as a reason to block injunctions.

In a broader sense, however, there are international considerations as well. In November, B.C. passed a bill aligning its laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), a landmark document that, among other things, protects Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-government and right to consent to resource-development projects on their territories.

B.C. is the first Canadian jurisdiction to implement UNDRIP ⁠— the document was passed by the UN General Assembly in 2007 over Canada’s objections, and the country has so far been reluctant to formally implement it. It’s not clear how the document could play in future disputes.

In the case of Coastal GasLink, B.C.’s independent Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and the UN Committee on Racial Discrimination have all criticized the provincial government, saying Coastal GasLink violates UNDRIP principles.

B.C. Premier John Horgan, meanwhile, has said the province’s law is not retroactive and Coastal GasLink will go ahead. SOURCE


Coastal Gaslink pipeline threatens healing centre, says Unist’ot’en Camp