Six Months Later: No Access Without Consent

Six months Later: Wet’sewet’en and Unist’ot’en Check-in

Six months ago, allies and Indigenous communities around the world raised up the voices and actions of the Wet’sewet’en National as they defended their sovereignty and traditional territories. Following approval of a Coastal GasLink pipeline project by the BC government in Novemeber 2018, members of the Nation stood before BC Supreme Court Justice Marguerite Church to defend their sovereignty. The project aims to transport fracked gas through a 670-kilometer pipeline across their territories to refineries in Kitimat and ultimately to export markets in Asia. 

In early January we reported on actions taken by governments and the RCMP who enacted a court injunction, leading to the arrest of spokesperson Molly Wickham, an Elder, and 13 land defenders and supporters.

Effects of the occupation by developers and industry on the territory were felt immediately by the Nation. Members of the Nation enacting their right to hunt and trap on their traditional territories found their access denied, as well as traplines and surrounding forests disturbed by development.

A statement from the Nation highlighted that the company was unwilling to stop their machinery in their relentless push toward constructing this pipeline, prohibiting the Nation from fulfilling our responsibilities to the animals we share this territory with.

“Police refused to update trappers on if we would be allowed to check our traps, or when we could do so legally. We are treated as criminals for our cultural practices. We have a right to trap on our territory. We have a right to feed ourselves from our territory. We need to be with our ancestors on the land. CGL and RCMP continue to treat us, and our land, with blatant disrespect.”

An inspection by the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) found Coastal GasLink Pipeline Ltd. to be in “non compliance” with three conditions of their environmental assessment certificate. The EAO requested that CGL “immediately cease activities” within the trapline registered to our Hereditary Chief Knedebeas (Warner William) that may adversely affect the trapline’s use. CGL had been ordered to “not resume activities that may affect” the use of this trapline until June 12, 2019, or until the trapline is no longer in use due to seasonal restrictions. Thus far, Coastal GasLink has ignored the EAO cease and desist order for Dark House territory.

Due to land disruption, many archaeological artefacts were also laid bare. On February 13, 2019, multiple artifacts were recovered from the bulldozed portions of Coastal GasLink Pipeline Ltd. (CGL) construction site in Ya’tsalkas (Dark House) Talbits Kwah yintah (territory) of the Wet’suwet’en near Houston.

On Friday, February 15, inspectors from the Archaeology Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations along with the BC Oil and Gas Commission entered Unist’ot’en territory. In a public statement, the Nation described that:

“They did not stop to go through the required Free, Prior and Informed Consent protocol, and thus had no consent to enter the territory. At no point did they inform Unist’ot’en spokespeople or chiefs of their presence or intentions. We were not able to witness their inspection of the site or notify professional archaeologists advising us on this matter. According to a member of the police Division Liaison Team, “they [OGC and Arch Branch archaeologists] did take items from the site. […] What they advised us is that they had a ministerial order to take the artifacts”

While unattended and unobserved by Unist’ot’en members and hereditary chiefs, they removed stone tools that Unist’ot’en supporters had left in situ. They trespassed, tampered with an archaeological site, and stole gifts from the ancestors of this territory.”

The Unist’ot’en House filed an application for judicial review in the BC Supreme Court in relation to the proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline project. The judicial review challenged the decision of the BC Oil and Gas Commission (BCOGC) and provincial Archaeology Branch to accept an archaeological mitigation plan prepared by Coastal GasLink without undertaking any consultation with the Nation

In April, the Nation stood before the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to raise awareness on an international level of the actions of the Canadian government against Indigenous sovereignty, consent, and violation of Wet’suwet’en law, as well as federal and provincial laws that protect Indigenous heritage. Hereditary leaders including Na’moks and Freda Huson addressed to committee.

“We are troubled by the ongoing trend in Canada that the interests of corporations for natural resource extraction are superseding the rights of Indigenous people on our lands and territories.” ~ Na’moks

The Nation has received statements and actions of solidarity from across the country including the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, other Indigenous communities like the Elsipogtog First Nation, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, the BC teacher’s Federation, and the BC Federation of Students.

In turn, Unist’ot’en has expressed solidarity and recognition of the intersection of their work with other international and national issues such as the need to ban fracking and the affects of work camps for Indigenous women and girls.

Masuma Asad Kahn, former Dalhousie student and Former Vice President Academic and External at Dalhousie Student Union, has been a long time advocate for Indigenous sovereignty over traditional territories, including the occupation of Wet’sewet’en territory.

“Showing solidarity and showing up to event and supporting communities across Turtle Island is part of my duty to the land, my community, and specifically my Muslim community. This is tied to our need for clean water – wherever you come form or who you are, we all need water to live. Indigenous sovereignty is connected to all of our liberation. When you protect Indigenous sovereignty, we are actively doing work to liberate our communities and build networks of solidarity amongst each other.”

Wet’sewet’en hereditary Chiefs are before the courts again from June 11-14. At this time, Coastal Gas Link is seeking a permanent injunction before the BC Supreme Court. CGL is asking for an enforcement order to remove Unist’ot’en cabins established on the territory.

Unist’ot’en members state that “It will either be extended to an interlocutory injunction, giving a pass to more RCMP violence, or dismissed, ending the human rights violations. Regardless of the outcome in the courts, it is not up to colonial government and industry giants to determine our fate. We remain unceded, undefeated, sovereign and victorious.”

This Saturday, June 15 the Nation is calling on National Day of Action in continued support for Unist’ot’en and Indigenous sovereignty. The Unist’ot’en Camp is also calling on Indigenous individuals and allies to take part in the 6th annual spring construction camp and defence of the land.

The University of Northern British Columbia is also offering a course on decolonization through land stewardship in partnership with Unist’ot’en, which takes place July 8-12.

Kahn hopes that people across Canada recognize their responsibility in this call to action.

“We as people who are taking resources from this land, holding jobs, who are benefitting from this, need to ensure that we give back to First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities. We would not have Canada without the genocide of Indigenous people and the consistent oppression that they face. Its important that we come together and fight for and recognize their sovereignty.”