14 arrested as RCMP and military breach Unist’ot’en Camp checkpoint

Royal Canadian Mounted Police followed through with enforcing the court order granting them the authority to remove Wet'suwet'en land defenders from Unist’ot’en CampPhoto courtesy: Michael Toledano / unistoten.camp

Lisa J. Ellwood

Wet'suwet'en leaders proclaimed raid would be ‘an act of war’; RCMP set ‘exclusion zones’ for media and public

Monday morning Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced they would be enforcing the court order granting them the authority to remove Wet'suwet'en land defenders from Unist’ot’en Camp to allow TransCanada to build its proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline in the area.

The RCMP followed through at approximately 2:51 p.m. local time when at least 10 police cars and a helicopter forcefully breached the camp’s peaceful checkpoint on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia.

“There are confirmed reports that RCMP have breached the checkpoint at Gidumt’en, Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gidumt’en territory. The RCMP are armed and moving in. Military also present. Gidumt’en cell service, wifi, and communication has been jammed and cut off by police,” as camp representatives reported on their website.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs reported that attempts to negotiate with Coastal GasLink on scene failed as company workers began to dismantle Gidimt’en checkpoint gates.

The chiefs were blocked from their own territories and there were 14 confirmed arrests including an elder. Gidumt’en Clan spokesperson Molly Wickham was said to to have been arrested on her land. She and other arrestees were taken to Prince George to stand before a Justice of the Peace according to the camp report.

RCMP arrested 14 Unist’ot’en Camp land defenders. Photo courtesy: Michael Toledano / unistoten.camp

RCMP and miliary breached the checkpoint at Gidumt’en, Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gidumt’en territory. Photo courtesy: Michael Toledano / unistoten.camp

RCMP and miliary invasion of Wet’suwet’en territiry. Photo courtesy: Michael Toledano / unistoten.camp

Gidumt’en cell service, wifi, and communication were been jammed and cut off by police. Photo courtesy: Michael Toledano / unistoten.camp

Suspecting that such an invasion was imminent, Gidimt’en clan leaders called the actions of militarized police ‘an act of war’ as they made preparations last weekend.

“Yesterday [Friday, January 4], members of the RCMP’s Aboriginal Police Liaison met with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and indicated that specially trained tactical forces will be deployed to forcibly remove Wet’suwet’en people from sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory. Police refused to provide any details of their operation to the Dini’ze and Tsake’ze (hereditary chiefs) including the number of officers moving in, the method of forcible removal, or the timing of deployment. By rejecting the requests for information by the Dini’ze and Tsake’ze the RCMP indicated that they intend to surprise and overwhelm the Wet’suwet’en people who are protecting their territories on the ground.

The RCMP’s ultimatum, to allow TransCanada access to unceded Wet’suwet’en territory or face police invasion, is an act of war. Despite the lip service given to “Truth and Reconciliation,” Canada is now attempting to do what it has always done – criminalize and use violence against indigenous people so that their unceded homelands can be exploited for profit,” Gidimt’en leaders said a statement on January 5th.

“The RCMP were advised that there are children, elders, and families visiting and present at the Gidimt’en Access Point, to which they did not respond. Since it was established, the Gidimt’en Access Point has hosted gatherings, workshops, and traditional activities for Wet’suwet’en, and provided an essential space for Wet’suwet’en to reconnect with their traditional territories."

“Article 10 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples clearly states ‘Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their land or territories.’ Any removal of Wet’suwet’en peoples by the RCMP, or any other authoritarian forces, will directly violate UNDRIP and the Trudeau government’s promise to implement UNDRIP," said the statement.

"We are now preparing for a protracted struggle. The hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en and the land defenders holding the front lines have no intention of allowing Wet’suwet’en sovereignty to be violated. In plain language, the threat made by RCMP to invade Wet’suwet’en territories is a violation of human rights, a siege, and an extension of the genocide that Wet’suwet’en have survived since contact."

“Canada knows that its own actions are illegal. The Wet’suwet’en fought for many years in the Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa court case to have their sovereignty recognized and affirmed by Canadian law. In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Wet’suwet’en people, as represented by their hereditary leaders, had not given up rights and title to 22,000 km2 of Northern British Columbia. Knowing that further litigation would be prohibitively expensive to Indigenous plaintiffs (and that pipeline construction could be completed before any significant legal issues could be further resolved) TransCanada and the provincial and federal governments are openly violating this landmark ruling.”

A 1997 landmark case in Canada’s Supreme Court known as Delgamuukw, confirmed that the Wet’suwet’en people have never signed treaties with Canada or sold their lands.

“We would like to emphasize that the RCMP respects the Wet'suwet'en culture, the connection to the land and traditions being taught and passed on at the camp, and the importance of the camp to healing.’ the RCMP claimed in a press release on Sunday. ‘We also recognize the importance of open and direct dialogue between all parties involved in this dispute. Through the Division Liaison Team and the Indigenous Policing Section, the RCMP have maintained a dialogue with the residents of the Unist’ot’en camp over the last several months, to discuss the possibility of an injunction order being issued and what our role is, as police of jurisdiction, in enforcing that order. Should enforcement take place, the RCMP will be prepared to ensure the safety of everyone involved – demonstrators, police officers, area residents, motorists, media and general public.”

The checkpoints were the latest act of defiance in the Wet’suwet’en rebellion against their elected band council leadership and its $13-million agreement to support the gas pipeline according to a report in The Star Vancouver. All five clans comprising Wet’suwet’en Nation rebelled against the decision. A point of contention for the hereditary chiefs has been that the First Nation’s band council only has jurisdiction over the reserve, not the entirety of Wet’suwet’en traditional territories. In August 2015 four Elected Chiefs on the council attempted to distance the First Nation from Unist’ot’en Camp and urged cooperation with pipeline companies.

In a Unist’ot’en Camp website post and press release Chief Na’mocks Hereditary Chief of the Wet’suwet’en said the Hereditary Chiefs have never signed a paper or had a conversation about giving up authority over their land.

“How can there be reconciliation when they don’t even acknowledge who we are. We are the rights and title holders, we are the highest ranking Hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation,” said Na’mocks.

The Gitdumt’en checkpoint received public support including hereditary chiefs of the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and recently the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

Demonstrations are taking place today in Vancouver and across Canada as part of an international day of protest in support of Unist’ot’en Camp land defenders.

Related coverage:

55 rallies planned in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en land defenders

British Columbia court to issue amendment to Wet'suwet'en injunction decision

Follow correspondent and Press Pool manager Lisa J. Ellwood on Twitter.