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All Eyes on Wet’suwet’en!
Three Years of State Violence Against Wet’suwet’en Land Defenders
January 7 marked three years since the first use of state violence against the land defenders on the unceded territories of the Wet’suwet’en Nation and its member clans. In that time, at least 75 people have been arrested in multiple raids by the RCMP to impose the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline project on the Wet’suwet’en people who adamantly refuse to give their consent for such activity on their land. At this time, on January 4 the land defenders undertook a strategic retreat from a site being used by CGL in response to the RCMP conspicuously increasing their presence in the area at the beginning of the year.
A January 4 media release from the Gidimt’en clan explains:
“Two weeks after Wet’suwet’en water protectors evicted Coastal GasLink workers and occupied a key pipeline drill site, water protectors executed a strategic retreat to avoid arrest and violence at the hands of dozens of militarized RCMP. Before a large scale mobilization by police, water protectors vanished into the woods, evading police violence and criminalization. We expect an imminent assault on our people at the direction of Coastal GasLink as we continue to occupy and utilize our yintah.
“‘Our warriors are not here to be arrested. Our warriors are here to protect the land and the water, and will continue to do so at all costs,’ stated Sleydo’ (Molly Wickham), a wing chief of the Cas Yikh people. ‘Every time that the RCMP, the C-IRG [Community-Industry Response Group], has come in to enforce CGL’s injunction they have done violence against our women. They have imprisoned our Indigenous women and our warriors. We will not allow our people to be political prisoners.’
“For the fourth time in four years, the RCMP appeared to mobilize for a large-scale assault on unceded Wet’suwet’en land, booking dozens of hotel rooms to bring police from throughout the province to facilitate pipeline construction and to assert control over unceded lands at gunpoint. Water protectors have blocked drilling beneath Wet’suwet’en headwaters for more than 70 days. In the last couple of days there have been increased patrols by non-local RCMP, C-IRG, and helicopter surveillance over private Wet’suwet’en residences far from any project worksites.
“After the first 56-day occupation, RCMP made 30 arrests before escorting Coastal GasLink workers into Coyote Camp to bulldoze and burn down several cabins, homes, and structures. Within a month, land defenders retook the site, once again evicting CGL workers and blockading the drill pad. Arrests were also made at Gidimt’en Checkpoint, a re-occupation of our traditional village site on Cas Yikh yintah that is not impeding Coastal GasLink work.
“‘We know that we have to uphold our responsibilities, and no matter how much they try to beat us down we will never forget who we are as Wet’suwet’en people. We will always uphold our responsibilities to Wedzin Kwa [the Morice River], to our yintah and to all of the future generations,’ stated Sleydo’.
“Wet’suwet’en people have never ceded or surrendered the 22,000km2 of traditional Wet’suwet’en land to British Columbia or Canada, and have proven in the Supreme Court of Canada that Wet’suwet’en ownership of this land remains unextinguished. Our hereditary chiefs fought for years within colonial courts to protect our yintah as they have done on the land since time immemorial. Under Anuc nu’at’en (Wet’suwet’en law), House Chiefs representing each impacted Wet’suwet’en group have banned Coastal GasLink from Wet’suwet’en lands, and in 2020 issued an eviction notice to the company that remains in effect.
“Since 2019 the RCMP have spent over $20 million criminalizing Wet’suwet’en authority over our lands, deploying in military garb with drones, helicopters, ATVs, snowmobiles, mobile command centers, and K-9 units. RCMP have pointed sniper rifles and assault weapons at unarmed Indigenous people, and used physical and psychological torture techniques on water protectors engaged in non-violent civil disobedience. To date, police have made 79 arrests, including four Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs.
“‘I don’t think Coastal Gaslink, the government, or the police understand that the Wet’suwet’en have been here for thousands of years. Despite all the money and effort C-IRG and CGL utilize in an effort to get rid of us, we are never going away. Ever,’ says Sleydo’.”
It is urgent that Canadians find the ways and means to hold the governments of Canada and British Columbia to account for not only refusing to recognize Indigenous hereditary rights but also permitting their resistance to be criminalized and their people to be assaulted, arrested and abused by policing forces.
Today these governments are claiming louder than ever before that they uphold Indigenous rights but facts are stubborn things. They must stop this abuse and they must be held to account.
The Wet’suwet’en yintah belongs to them by right of being. Only they are entitled to decide what takes place there.
(Renewal Update, posted January 12, 2022. Photos: TML, Unis’tot’en Camp, C. Smith, Climate Justice Edmonton, HDLC, F. Lopez, Shades Green)