Updated: May 31, 2020
In early 2019, news of Coastal Gaslink’s (CGL) plans to build a pipeline from northeastern British Columbia (B.C.) to the coastal town Kitimat came to light (1). This pipeline would have to travel through the Wet’suwet’en territory. These plans were approved by both the B.C. provincial and federal government, as well as the elected band councils of the Wet’suwet’en community due to its economic benefits for the province and Canada, and the creation of job prospects for Indigenous peoples in helping build the pipeline (2). However, their hereditary leaders remained opposed as they believe that the environmental risk to their land is too great, as there is potential for detrimental oil spills from the pipeline (1).
The Wet’suwet’en people have rights to their lands, as ruled in 1997 in the Delgamuukw vs. British Columbia court case. This case appealed the ruling in 1991 that Indigenous rights to their land had been abolished in 1871 when B.C. became part of Canada, and concluded that treaty rights could not be forfeited, and so the Indigenous Nations’ rights and titles to their lands and territories hold true (4). Therefore, any use of the land must obtain “free, prior and informed consent” from the community before its commencement (3). The UN Committee for Elimination of Racial Discrimination, B.C. Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International are criticizing this decision, supporting the notion that the government must halt construction until they obtain consent from the community (1).
In January 2019, the RCMP arrested 14 protesters to enforce an injunction obtained by CGL to allow their workers to use the road to access their worksite. This occurred in January 2019, and since then tensions have continued to rise (1, 3). On December 31st, 2019, the B.C. Supreme Court Justice Marguerite Church granted an injunction to remove all obstacles blocking pipeline construction and issued an enforcement order that grants the RCMP the power to enforce the injunction (1, 5). In response, the Wet’suwet’en people enforced an eviction of CGL workers from their land and blocked access to one of the key roads leading to a CGL worksite using partly cut trees and tires; accelerants were also found nearby (6). The RCMP have responded by launching a criminal investigation regarding the blockades and accelerants and setting up an access control point along this road, on which Wet’suwet’en protesters and hereditary chiefs are camped out (5). The objective of this is to restrict access to the road, and they will only allow those that have approval from the RCMP’s operations commander through; this includes hereditary and elected chiefs, accredited journalists and those providing food and medical supplies. However, the Wet’suwet’en Nation fears that excessive force and criminalization will ensue as it did in January 2019, and that their rights will continue to be ignored (6). B.C. Premier John Horgan said on January 13th that the pipeline will continue construction as per court order, regardless of protest from the Wet’suwet’en Nation, because “the rule of law must prevail” (7).
With differing political systems across Canadian provinces, it is important to understand the context of the approval this pipeline received from the elected band councils of Wet’suwet’en. It becomes clear from the protests and recent events that this pipeline is not welcomed by all people of Wet’suwet’en, despite being approved. As Canada works towards mending Indigenous relationships, consultation is critical to establish trust and transparency.
There are various ways to show support for the Wet’suwet’en people and their rights to protect their land:
1) Go to their land to volunteer and peacefully protest
2) Raise funds to help the Unist’ot’en with legal costs
3) Educate your community about the situation via social media, blog posts, or writing an article for your local newspaper
4) Build solidarity by signing the pledge to support the Unist’ot’en or writing a solidarity statement supporting Wet’suwet’en jurisdiction if part of a labour union, community group or academic faculty (to register, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
5) Pressure the government by calling the relevant provincial and federal ministers or contacting your MP via phone, e-mail or social media
6) Donating directly to the cause here: https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/unistoten2020legalfund/ + https://www.gofundme.com/f/gidimt039en-strong) (8).
1. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/british-columbia/article-wetsuweten-coastal-gaslink-pipeline-rcmp-explainer/ 2. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/coastal-gaslink-pipeline-life-changing-jobs-first-nations-haisla-1.5427666 3. https://globalnews.ca/news/6431665/bc-gas-pipeline-first-nation-checkpoint/ 4. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/delgamuukw-vs-british-columbia-20-years-rights-titles-1.4440703