Five things to know about the pipeline protests in B.C

Kareem Gouda / January 11th, 2019

The Unist’ot’en checkpoint was set up prevent access to the Wet’suwet’en territory by pipeline construction
(Source / Jacquie Bowes)

Many Canadians and media outlets were caught somewhat flat-footed when the RCMP clashed with the Wet’suwet’en people Monday.

As this Google trend’s report illustrates, interest and coverage was fairly dormant until Violence broke out ahead of protests across the world.

Given that many people are learning about this situation as it unfolds, many are also playing catch-up with the background and context to this story that has many people still unsure about the What? So-what? and Why?

To that end, BCIT News has put together five important things to know about the pipeline protests.

The Wet’suwet’en territory occupies a large portion of the central interior of BC. They are a branch of the Dakelh or Carrier nation. ( Source / Jacquie Bowes)

1.  Who are the Wet’suwet’en?

The Wet’suwet’en are a First Nations people whose territory occupies a large portion of the central interior of BC. They are a branch of the Dakelh or Carrier nation.

They speak Witsuwit’en and along with the Carrier nation are both in the Athabaskan Language Family.

The Wet’suwet’en  are made up of five separate clans:

  • Gilseyhu (Big Frog)
  • Laksilyu (Small Frog)
  • Gitdumden (Wolf/Bear), also spelt Gitumden
  • Laksamshu (Fireweed)
  • Tsayu (Beaver clan)

They operate under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en which is not formally recognized by the BC Government.

2. Resources and land-use deals

Back in 2012, the Wet’suwet’en set up the Unist’ot’en checkpoint.

It’s located near the work site for the future $6.2-billion TransCanada Coastal GasLink pipeline.

The pipeline would run about one kilometer south of the Unist’ot’en camp and they prepared a checkpoint to stand in opposition to the project they did not agree to.

It was set up to prevent construction on their traditional land which is located around the Morice River Bridge or the area accessed by the Morice West Forest Service Road near Houston, B.C.

Since 2009, according to  the Office of the Wet’suwet’en:

Natural Resources are mandated by the hereditary clan leaders to assert the title, rights and interests of the clans with respect to the sale, use and development of natural resources on 22,000 kms2 of traditional clan territories. – Office of the Wet’suwet’en

This raises a key issue about  jurisdiction and the nation to nation relationship between the Wet’suwet’en and the Government of Canada.

The pipeline plan was shut down by the five Wet’suwet’en clans who are opposed to building the pipeline to Kitimat through their land.

Natural Resources are mandated by the hereditary clan leaders to assert the title, rights and interests of the clans with respect to the sale, use and development of natural resources on 22,000 kms2 of traditional clan territories. – Office of the Wet’suwet’en (Source / Jackie Bowes)

3. RCMP enforce injunction, Wet’suwet’en: “It’s an act of War”

The Supreme Court of B.C issued an injunction to prevent protesters form interfering with the Coastal GasLink project.

B.C RCMP  equipped with dozens of officers and vehicles rolled up to the checkpoints set up on Wet’suwet’en territory to enforce the injunction.

The first video shows a series RCMP vehicles mobilizing towards the Wet’suwet’en roadblock set up ahead of the Coastal GasLink work site.

The second video is really where things kick off. RCMP are seen climbing over the Barrier and arresting protesters Monday. In all 14 people were arrested and access to the area has been restricted.

According to Delee Nikal, spokesperson for the Wet’suwet’en, their territory is unceded, not Crown and therefore their land is being trespassed upon as one nation aggressing upon another.

“We have every right to be there, I have my Gidimt’en brothers and sisters up there. For them to stop me is unconstitutional in every way, shape and form and a violation of UNDRIP article 10 and article 26.2″ – Delee Nikal, Gitdumden clan

The RCMP are enforcing Canadian law but at the same time, the Wet’suwet’en are not seen as legal in the eyes of Canadian Law. Under the Indian Act they are not recognized sovereign nation and so, according to Canada have no claim to the land territory.

UPDATE: 14 PROTESTERS ARRESTED IN NORTHERN BC DURING ANTI-PIPELINE DEMONSTRATION

Trudeau attended a town hall Kamloops on January 9th days after the arrests at the Unist’ot’en camp. One audience member called him a “liar and a weak leader.” (justinpjtrudeau / Instagram)

4. Federal, provincial and indigenous political issues

Federal

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is dealing with an upcoming election in October and is being placed under a more critical lens. The Federal Liberals, in recent months, have promised recommitting to reconciliation, including adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) However, this week has not looked like a reflection of that promise. According to UNDRIP Article 10 :

“Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.” – UNDRIP, Article 10

Additionally, Article 26.2 states:

“Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.” – UNDRIP, Article 26.2

Provincial

BC Premier John Horgan’s minority NDP has support with the Green party and is also promising to commit to UNDRIP. However, the NDP’s Clean BC plan is still unclear and those details are expected to come in February in the 2019 budget.

Indiginous

Many First Nations in BC have had friction over energy projects for decades. Some have made agreements with the provincial and federal governments but the Wet’suwet’en said it was never a debate for them:

“Since the beginning, we’ve been opposed,” Dinï ze’ Na’Moks (John Ridsdale) of the Tsayu (Beaver) Clan of the Wet’suwet’en

Much of the problems between the Wet’suwet’en and the Crown stem from the land mark case in 1997 Delgamuukw v British Columbia  where a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada “containing its first definitive statement on the content of the Aboriginal title in Canada.” The Crown continued to argue against any form of ownership and still maintained Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en aboriginal rights were extinguished more than 100 years ago despite the fact that these rights are protected in the 1982 Constitution Act. Since the case was handed down in 1997 and never resolved, a proverbial pause on the Wet’suwet’en territorial rights remains.

5. Online mobilization

Passions ran hot as  photos and videos gathered at the Unist’ot’en checkpoint came out.

RCMP were seen arresting and removing protesters. The world took notice rapidly through social media.

This led to a series of protests and demonstrations across Canada and spread as far as the southern United States and Northern Europe.

Harsha Walia, a BC activist helped to rally support and solidarity for those at the Unist’ot’en checkpoint.

Read more on the protests here:

PIPELINE CLASH WITH FIRST NATIONS FUELS PROTESTS ACROSS NORTH AMERICA AND BEYOND

The story map below illustrates the events that have led to where we are now.