HOUSTON, B.C. (NEWS 1130) – RCMP confirm 14 people were arrested Monday evening from a blockade just west of Smithers meant to prevent access to LNG pipeline builders.
The RCMP have been trying to enforce an injunction order that was granted last month to Coastal GasLink
— Unist'ot'en Camp (@UnistotenCamp) January 8, 2019
Posts from protesters show multiple officers in the area and protesters holding up feathers.
Is this a normal way to respond to Indigenous people who are peacefully protecting their drinking water from fracking pipelines? @JustinTrudeau @jjhorgan is this the reconciliation you have talking about? #WETSUWETENSTRONG #NOPIPELINES pic.twitter.com/4z4JUAKp50
— Michael Toledano (@M_Tol) January 8, 2019
In a statement, the RCMP say a meeting between Hereditary Chiefs and CGL was facilitated in the hopes of resolving the matter without police involvement, “When it was determined that the matter could not be resolved, at 3 pm the RCMP proceeded to enter the blockade in order to facilitate open access to the service road.
RCMP say those arrested are still being processed.
“There are also erroneous reports that the RCMP jammed communications in the area, preventing the media and public from providing information about the unfolding situation, and that the Canadian Military were present during the police enforcement operation,” reads the statement. “We would like to clarify that both of these allegations are incorrect.”
According to officers the area is extremely remote and say police also had to deal with limited communication. The statement also says police officers worked with the Tactical and Emergency Response Team, not the military.
The B.C. Supreme Court granted the injunction last month to Trans Mountain to build a Coastal GasLink LNG line through the Wet’suwe’ten territory.
The order gave demonstrators 72 hours to clear out and give access.
An international day of solidarity is being planned across North America and beyond on Tuesday in support of the indigenous protesters.
In Vancouver, two events have been planned, one at 11:30 a.m., with a meet-up, is happening on the 800-block of Smithe Street, and a march to Victory Square.
Then, an hour later, a gathering has been planned out front of MP Jody Wilson-Raybould Office, on West Broadway.
Other events are being planned for as far away as New York, and even Italy, according to social media.
A pair of camps, built by clans in the First Nation, have popped up since the injuction was granted, showing their opposition to the planned project.
When community members began digging in, Mounties started amassing nearby.
“Each one of our hereditary chiefs has stated opposition, and they’re the only ones who can provide that consent — not the province, not the band council,” Karla Tait, who lives nearby, tells NEWS 1130.
Tait says there had been concerns at the Unist’ot’en camp, citing a “tense climate” there with the possibility of demonstrators being removed for restricting access to the pipeline.
“People have been concerned about their safety, so understandably people were quite concerned and worried in such a remote location,” she explains. “We haven’t had positive experiences with RCMP and police forces. As First Nations people, often our rights and our title are ignored in favour of industry or government agendas. This is just like every experience with colonization up to date.”
“We’re very concerned,” Tait says.
She says the pipeline is going to “compromise and jeopardize” the vision the First Nation has for the space as a healing centre, and cites safety concerns for the community.
The RCMP’s enforcement of the injunction has been met with condemnation from Indigenous leaders like Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, but in a statement, the Mounties argue they’re an impartial player in this conflict.
In response to the RCMP’s statement, Tait refers back to history.
“History has shown time and time again that the RCMP and the police are an extension of the government’s legitimized force, and whether it’s legally sanctioned or not doesn’t mean it’s right,” Tait tells NEWS 1130.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs says the continued police presence ignores previous court cases that give Indigenous groups land and title rights to the area. Its members stress the federal and provincial governments must acquire consent from them before the proposed Coastal GasLink can start on the 700-kilometre pipeline through the territory from Dawson Creek to Kitimat.
While Phillip appreciates the situation is a difficult one to navigate, he has stressed that “force is not the solution.”
“The Unist’ot’en camp is a non-violent gathering of Indigenous land defenders and members of the Unist’ot’en house group in Wet’suwet’en territory in northern BC,” the UBCIC says in a statement.
“Under the authority of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, these land defenders are actively practicing their inherent Indigenous Title and Rights to protect the land and pursue their right to self-determination.”
The UBCIC is calling “upon the Canadian Justice system to uphold the human rights and dignity of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous land defenders must be treated with respect and must have their right to defend their lands and territories from the impacts of industry and climate change recognized and protected.”
Freda Huson, who is among those at the the Unist’ot’en camp on the Wet’suwe’ten First Nation, says protesters there have spent the last several days preparing for the arrival of RCMP officers.
“It just feels like our government has declared war on my people,” Huson says.
“Even though we say no, they’re forcing this project on us, and they’re using military and police forces on peaceful people. That’s what I mean, they’re declaring war on us peaceful people.”
In response to claims the RCMP is simply enforcing a court-ordered injunction, Huson also points to moments in history.
“To me they’re working for the company, they’re not keeping no peace. They’re just ensuring that we don’t create no trouble so the company can get their way,” she says.
Huson calls the court process “unjust,” and claims the First Nation didn’t have enough time to review the hundreds of pages of documents submitted by the Coastal GasLink.
Gidimt’en checkpoint south of Houston, B.C. (Source: Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gidumt’en Territory, Facebook)
Local MP committed to ensuring safety, peace among protesters
The MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley says he’s happy with the peace protesters have maintained throughout their demonstrations.
Speaking to NEWS 1130 following his visit to an exclusion zone set up by Mounties near the blockade, Nathan Cullen says he’s spoken to protesters, the RCMP, and the company behind the LNG pipeline to ensure things remain calm.
“I think it’s my job, I’m the Member of Parliament for this area and there’s a very large project proposed,” he says. “It’s got support from many parts along the pipeline, and at the terminal in Kitimat, there’s been one place — and it’s this place — that’s been opposed for some time.”
In his discussions with the RCMP, Cullen says he’s asked that officers keep the peace, all while maintaining respect for the First Nations.
“When we have grey areas and uncertainties, that’s when the tensions arise and that’s where people get frustrated, and I understand that frustration,” he added.
Protests in solidarity
Community members are now asking for prayers ahead of a series of solidarity rallies later this week.
There are rallies planned in at least 20 cities to support those in the camps.
In Vancouver, hundreds of people have said they will be attending a demonstration in the city, planned for Tuesday.
Meantime, a fundraiser has been launched to help people at the camps buy supplies. As of Monday morning, close to $50,000 had been raised.
-With files from Lauren Boothby, Denise Wong, Adam Cooper, Jonathan Szekeres, and The Canadian Press