By LISA J. ELLWOOD
Monday morning, Jan. 7, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) announced they would be enforcing the court order granting them the authority to remove Wet’suwet’en land defenders from Unist’ot’en Camp to allow TransCanada to build its proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline in the area.
The RCMP followed through at approximately 2:51 p.m. local time when at least 10 police cars and a helicopter forcefully breached the camp’s peaceful checkpoint on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia.
“There are con rmed reports that RCMP have breached the checkpoint at Gidumt’en, Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gidumt’en territory. The RCMP are armed and moving in. Military are also present. Gidumt’en cell service, wifi and communication have been jammed and cut off by police,” as camp representatives reported on their website.
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs reported that attempts to negotiate with Coastal GasLink on scene failed as company workers began to dismantle Gidumt’en checkpoint gates.
The chiefs were blocked from their own territories and there were 14 con rmed arrests including an elder. Gidumt’en Clan spokesperson Molly Wickham was said to have been arrested on her land. She and other arrestees were taken to Prince George to stand before a Justice of the Peace, according to the camp report.
“Yesterday [Friday, Jan. 4], members of the RCMP’s Aboriginal Police Liaison met with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and indicated that specially trained tactical forces will be deployed to forcibly remove Wet’suwet’en people from sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory.
The RCMP’s ultimatum, to allow TransCanada access to unceded Wet’suwet’en territory or face police invasion, is an act of war. Despite the lip service given to “Truth and Reconciliation,” Canada is now attempting to do what it has always done – criminalize and use violence against indigenous people so that their unceded homelands can be exploited for pro t,” Gidumt’en leaders said in a statement on January 5.
“The RCMP were advised that there are children, elders and families visiting and present at the Gidumt’en Access Point, to which they did not respond. Since it was established, the Gidumt’en Access Point has hosted gatherings, workshops and traditional activities for Wet’suwet’en, and provided an essential space for Wet’suwet’en to reconnect with their traditional territories.”
“Article 10 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) clearly states ‘Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their land or territories.’ Any removal of Wet’suwet’en peoples by the RCMP, or any other authoritarian forces, will directly violate UNDRIP and the Trudeau government’s promise to implement UNDRIP,” said the statement.
“In plain language, the threat made by RCMP to invade Wet’suwet’en territories is a violation of human rights, a siege and an extension of the genocide that Wet’suwet’en have survived since contact.” A 1997 landmark case in Canada’s Supreme Court known as Delgamuukw, con rmed that the Wet’suwet’en people have never signed treaties with Canada or sold their lands.
“We would like to emphasize that the RCMP respects the Wet’suwet’en culture, the connection to the land and traditions being taught and passed on at the camp, and the importance of the camp to healing,” the RCMP claimed in a press release on Sunday. “We also recognize the importance of open and direct dialogue between all parties involved in this dispute. Through the Division Liaison Team and the Indigenous Policing Section, the RCMP have maintained a dialogue with the residents of the Unist’ot’en Camp over the last several months, to discuss the possibility of an injunction order being issued and what our role is, as police of jurisdiction, in enforcing that order. Should enforcement take place, the RCMP will be prepared to ensure the safety of everyone involved — demonstrators, police of cers, area residents, motorists, media and the general public.”
The checkpoints were the latest act of de ance in the Wet’suwet’en rebellion against their elected Band Council leadership and its $13-million agreement to support the gas pipeline according to a report in The Star Vancouver. All ve clans comprising Wet’suwet’en Nation rebelled against the decision. A point of contention for the hereditary chiefs has been that the First Nation’s Band Council only has jurisdiction over the reserve, not the entirety of Wet’suwet’en traditional territories. In August 2015, four Elected Chiefs on the Council attempted to distance the First Nation from Unist’ot’en Camp and urged cooperation with pipeline companies.
In a Unist’ot’en Camp website post and press release, Chief Na’mocks, Hereditary Chief of the Wet’suwet’en said the Hereditary Chiefs have never signed a paper or had a conversation about giving up authority over their land.
“How can there be reconciliation when they don’t even acknowledge who we are. We are the rights and title holders, we are the highest ranking Hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation,” said Na’mocks.
The Gitdumt’en checkpoint received public support, including hereditary chiefs of the Of ce of the Wet’suwet’en, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, and recently, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.
Article courtesy of Indian Country Today and author Lisa J. Ellwood.