What does the RCMP raid on Wet’suwet’en territory mean?

Thousands of people across Canada and around the world are watching and sharing updates online as RCMP officers dismantle a pipeline blockade on Wet’suwet’en territory in Northern B.C.

Photo by Michael Toledano.

Yesterday afternoon, police broke down a wooden gate and arrested several people at the Gidim’ten Checkpoint, a camp on a snowy forest service road along the Morice River southwest of Houston. The Gidim’ten or Gitdumden are one of five clans that make up the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

Farther up the road lies the Unis’tot’en Camp, a homestead maintained over the last nine years by members of the Unis’tot’en house group, part of a different Wet’suwet’en clan on adjacent territory. Police have assembled tactical vehicles and earth-moving equipment, but must pass the Gidem’ten checkpoint to reach the Unis’tot’en Camp.

Hereditary leaders for all five clans have withheld consent for new pipeline construction across Wet’suwet’en territories, which is what prompted the raid.

Allies have organized solidarity events Tuesday, January 8 in dozens of communities across Canada, to denounce this use of police force against Indigenous people asserting their rights on their own land.

Many Canadians have heard of the 1997 Delgamuukw decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, which recognized that Aboriginal title still exists in places where Indigenous nations have never signed a treaty with the Crown. In fact, the court was talking about the land where this raid is taking place.

Delgamuukw is a chief’s name in the neighbouring Gitxsan Nation, passed down through the generations. Delgamuukw was one of dozens of plaintiffs in the case, comprising hereditary chiefs from both the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en Nations.

Together those leaders achieved an extraordinary milestone in forcing the Canadian courts to affirm the legitimacy of their oral histories, traditional laws and continuing governance of their lands. But it wasn’t until the Tsilhqot’in decision in 2014 that the Supreme Court went a step further, recognizing Aboriginal title over a specific piece of land.

If the Wet’suwet’en chiefs went back to court all these years later, many legal scholars say the strength of their claim to their territories would eventually force the Canadian government to relinquish thousands of square kilometres within the Bulkley and Skeena watersheds – and stop calling it “Crown land”.

That’s why the TransCanada pipeline company acted quickly, to secure an injunction against Wet’suwet’en members blocking construction before the legal ground could shift under their Coastal Gaslink project.

The 670-kilometre pipeline project would link the fracking fields of Northeastern B.C. with a huge liquid gas export terminal proposed for Kitimat. Called LNG Canada, this project is made up of oil and gas companies from China, Japan, Korea and Malaysia, along with Royal Dutch Shell.

The BC Liberal, BC NDP and federal governments all courted the LNG Canada project, offering tax breaks, cheap electricity, tariff exemptions and other incentives to convince the consortium to build in B.C. Both Christy Clark and Premier John Horgan celebrated LNG Canada’s final investment decision last fall, calling it a big win for the province.

However, without a four foot diameter (122cm) pipeline feeding fracked gas to the marine terminal, the LNG Canada project is a non-starter.

That brings us back to the Morice River, or Wedzin Kwa in the Wet’suwet’en language. This is where the rubber hits the road for “reconciliation”. Politicians are fond of using the word, but seemingly uncomfortable with its implications.

Politicians also talk a lot about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and how to enshrine it in B.C. law. Article 10 of UNDRIP states that “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories.” It is hard to see how these arrests are consistent with this basic right.

Pro-pipeline pundits are already working hard to spin this raid as the “rule of law” being asserted over the objections of “protestors”. They point to benefit agreements signed between TransCanada and many band governments along the pipeline route.

But under the Indian Act, elected councillors only have jurisdiction over reserve lands – the tiny parcels set aside for First Nations communities that are administered much like municipalities. That’s not where this pipeline would go.

What is at stake in the larger battle over Indigenous rights and title are the vast territories claimed by the Crown but never paid for, conquered or acquired by treaty. In Wet’suwet’en territory, those lands, lakes and rivers are stewarded by hereditary chiefs and their relatives under a governance system that predates the founding of Canada.

My prediction: history will not look kindly on politicians who condone the use of force against local people on behalf of a multinational oil and gas consortium. I hope the response from British Columbians to these events give our leaders pause as they contemplate their next move.

A full list of solidarity events can be found on Facebook.

14 Responses to “What does the RCMP raid on Wet’suwet’en territory mean?”

  1. Joe says:

    I want my government on the right side of history for once. This isn’t it. John and Justin are both facing important byelections, please tell me how this isn’t posturing? If they have free and informed consent, then make companies go around. This pipe is making the same errors and is using the same tactics as those used to give settlers land or the right of way for the transcontinental railway. Treaties should have been settled before any routes were planned. A lot is being touted about reconciliation and UNDRIP but this looks a lot like the forceful removal of Indigenous people from land that the SCOC has acknowledge is theirs. Rather than repeat the past and have more lying politicians apologize in 30 years, we could consider doing it right today.

  2. Arlene says:

    Reconciliation is an empty word where greed is involved.

  3. Sarah Chandler says:

    For me, the real issue is fracking, which is a crime against the integrity of the planet and therefore against the future of humankind on this planet. The details, like pipelines, are distractions that keep people from focussing in the real issue…the destruction of our planetary matrix. No? Why don’t we all call for the end of fracking? period.

  4. Maureen Grier says:

    It is so wrong – what the political and industry leaders are doing. How can they claim to be honouring Indigenous rights while at the same time sending police onto unceeded indigenous lands to arrest indigenous peoples protecting their own territory? I suspect that our political and industry leaders will be found guilty of breaking the law – the law of Canada as well as law affirming indigenous rights!

  5. Dawn Belcourt says:

    Thank you for your concise article explaining the how the Hereditary chiefs have the consent over Indigenous lands and not the Indian Affairs chiefs who have been acting like they have all the decision-making power. There is much confusion among the Canadian general public on this issue. And shame on our Federal government and corporations who know this and yet chose to act illegally and with violence.

  6. Janet Breen says:

    The indigenous communities this affects must waste no time getting this to court to regain and assert their rights. This is a travesty. Unfortunately it’s all too familiar and all too predictable.

  7. Cindy Kay Gregory says:

    Exactly. But there is still so much to do to bring that awareness forward..perhaps since the issue getting attention right now is the seizing of territorial lands, get that settled first and then QUICKLY move to the fracking issue. We are all going to be so sorry twenty years down the line as we look at the mess we have made of our remaining resources…

  8. Mark Doyle says:

    The police claim “the rule if law” while trampling on the law with arrogant bullying violent EVIL force….at the point of a gun!!

  9. Brett says:

    No part of this is right. I hate bullies and liars. They need to start respecting first nation people around the world.

  10. james Senka says:

    I used to feel safe when I saw an RCMP uniform. Not any more.

  11. Kevin Barker says:

    Well, after my own analysis I have to conclude nothing’s changed since Louis Riel. Walk softly, carry a big stick. Use it from time to time…

  12. Pat Rinus says:

    Feeling safe around RCMP is a guise we all have felt at one time or another, no longer! They march to the beat of the feds like a bunch of robots.. if the field, they huddle together like scared children carrying weapons! They will eventually learn, accountability for individuals breaking the laws of the land will be severe! Just because the feds sent you, doesn’t make it right.. or even legal!

    I remember in the 80’s there were farmers in the northeast of the province (peace river) getting the same treatment from the fed government and the oil purveyor’s pipelines, it took many years to round up a few disgruntled, dynamiting their precious pipe! This will happen again, but with many more in force.. I can assure you of that!

    Pat Rinus

  13. Stuart F. R. Sinclair says:

    The inequality of the application/recognition of First People’s rights and land claims seems to be affected by the spirit of greed rather than reconcilliatre.
    If the reconciliation doesn’t interfere with the plans of the elites, it 100% affected. And publicized.
    But if it DOES interfere… the elites reveal their dark truths and apply pressure to government employees and order Federal police to break laws ” in the best interests of the public”.

  14. Irène says:

    It is not that simple. Somewhere, somehow, there is room for negotiating the right path.

Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend