Indigenous Nations Mobilize to Stop Construction of Canada’s Coastal GasLink Pipeline

Interview with Karla Tait, a member of Wet'suwet'en Nation in British Columbia, Canada, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Another anti-pipeline battle has been underway between indigenous people and a fracked gas company. And, just as in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota in 2016, the government has weighed in on the side of the frackers. The Wet’suwet’en Nation of about 3,500 members is located on more than 13,000 square miles of land in the northwestern Central Interior of British Columbia, Canada. On Dec. 31, 2019, the government of British Columbia granted a temporary injunction to Coastal GasLink Pipeline Ltd., a subsidiary of TC Energy— formerly TransCanada — preventing the Wet’suwet’en from interfering with pre-construction activities in building its 416-mile natural-gas pipeline from west of Dawson Creek, B.C., to a liquefied-natural-gas export facility on the Pacific Coast. A portion of that pipeline would traverse unceded Wet’suwet’en lands. The injunction criminalizes the people on their own land, and on Jan. 5, the hereditary chiefs of all five clans unanimously evicted Coastal GasLink from their territory. Even though British Columbia on paper has the strongest laws recognizing indigenous sovereignty, the government sent 100 heavily armed Royal Canadian Mounted Police into the territory and arrested six matriarchs, who were praying to the ancestors and for the thousands of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Charges were later dropped, but the standoff continues.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Karla Tait, a member of Wet’suwet’en Nation and the niece of Freda Huson, who founded a healing center in that area that pre-dates the fight against the pipeline. Here, Tait describes recent developments in the fight and the help they are seeking from supporters.

KARLA TAIT: The newer camps — the watch camps where the arrests happened yesterday along the 39 km mark — those were just established this year as a means to provide warm shelter for anyone who wanted to observe and hold accountable the police in their enforcement of the injunction, because a lot of their conduct has shown overly broad enforcement of the injunction.

For example, they established an exclusion zone, which they called a checkpoint well in advance of them formally announcing enforcement. And I think it was at the 27.5 km mark, they were arbitrarily denying access to even some of our hereditary chiefs and most of our Wet’suwet’en members who were trying to come up and visit either Unist’ot’en or Gidimt’en trying to bring in supplies, media people who were trying to come in and document the happenings up here, so there was a lot of restriction on movement. So that’s why, in response, the observation area at 39, kind of a watch camp, was established – not to restrict access of CGL (Coastal GasLink) or violate the injunction in any way; it was more of a measure to ensure accountability and a means for people to come out and be on our territory and hold supplies for both the camp and the Unist’ot’en healing village, to make sure we had some of the basic necessities we require.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Karla Tait, can you explain the role of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the RCMP, in this situation?

KARLA TAIT: So after the interim injunction was awarded last year, the RCMP decided to set up a remote station on our unceded territory within Gidimt’en boundaries, so at the 27 km they established a station for their RCMP officers, who would remain out there and come and patrol, follow us during traditional activities such as medicine or berry gathering, any trapping — they would come and surveil us and then respond to any complaints by the CGL Company when we attempted to access our territory for cultural uses. The RCMP stated that the purpose of that temporary station — that unwelcome temporary station because they’ve been asked several times by our chiefs to remove it – but the RCMP stated many times that it for the safety of our members as well as the CGL workers.

Of course, there’s been a number of incidents that have jeopardized the safety of guests of ours who are trying to monitor the access of CGL workers during pre-construction work and while we are awaiting the court dates for the permanent injunction decision. But the RCMP had never responded or investigated any of our complaints about unsafe behavior by the Coastal GasLink employees or the contractors. So our chiefs demanded that they remove the station, which is not in place for our interests or our safety, and had asked that they remove the exclusion zone they had set up a number of weeks ago at that 27.5 km mark, where they were arbitrarily denying the press and Wet’suwet’en access to the territory and limiting the movement of essential supplies. The RCMP refused to do either of those things, and the only talks that the provincial government agreed to were basically a meeting with the minister of aboriginal relations and reconciliation, who has no power or authority to address the issue at hand — namely the discussion about free, prior and informed consent for this Coastal GasLink pipeline project. There was no nation-to-nation talks carried forth in good faith in this past week and at the end of the week the RCMP said they would enforce the injunction, which meant that they would enter our territories and remove our members from our lands if we violated the injunction or limited CGL’s access.

Canada is putting the onus on us — a small nation, established well before Canada — to prove in their court system, under their law, that we own these lands, that we have title to these lands. I’m sure you can imagine facing that kind of huge, endlessly resourced entity that is Canada, we’ve hardly been in a position to challenge and establish our title through their legal system. So, donations to the legal fund will help, especially since we’re planning to stand our ground here.

You can donate to legal defense/support funds here: Gidimt’en Strong GoFundme page
and Unist’ot’en Camp Monthly Donors on The Action Network. 

To follow the events of the invasion, visit @UnistotenCamp at facebook.com/unistoten and facebook.com/wetsuwetenstrong.

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