All eyes on Wet’suwet’en

If one believes in serendipity, one would think it was no mistake that this profound writing was first on my screen today on my early morning check ins. Today facebook memories are flooded with images and videos taken a year ago, the first time RCMP breached the peaceful Gidumt’en Checkpoint.

After the BCSC granted Coastal Gaslink an injunction on New Years Eve, hereditary chiefs evicted Coastal Gaslink workers from their unceded traditional territory.  

Last night, the enforcement order for the interlocutory injunction granted to Coastal Gaslink on New Years Eve, was signed. Once CGL posts it on their website the RCMP have 72 hours to mobilize their forces again.

At the heart of the matter lies the difference between how hereditary leadership and law, and the elected band leadership, are treated and acknowledged by the provincial and federal governments.

On this project, several hereditary leaders say no, but the elected band leaders have said yes and signed agreements with CGL.

Unist’ot’en has explained their governance and responsibilities here 

Angela Sterritt did an excellent piece here explaining the differences and I strongly urge you to read it, as it explains clearly the challenges.

An important point is missed in most coverage that needs to be emphasized here.

While many media outlets are framing the women, men, elders and children there as ‘fringe protesters’, in fact they are not. It is their traditional unceded territory and land. They did not sign a treaty. The Unist’ot’en checkpoint has been there since 2009. There is a cabin, a healing lodge, pithouse and bunkhouse for visitors. The camp is used year-round for healing retreats, culture camps and living and they have a long record of protecting and inhabiting this land. I wrote about a first eviction in 2012 with the Pacific Trails pipeline crew.

Here is an excerpt from an easy to understand information post from just after last year’s police intrusion, that explains a bit more about why this matters – particularly now that the BC government has formally adopted UNDRIP, and the federal government has committed to repairing the relationship with Indigenous people in Canada:

How does the hereditary governance system of the Wet’suwet’en people function?

The Wet’suwet’en peoples have occupied their territory for thousands of years and have a complex and sophisticated governance system. Just as Canadian law takes years of study and learn, so too does Wet’suwet’en law.

Indigenous legal scholar John Borrows has provided the following overview, “For millennia, their histories have recorded their organization into Houses and Clans, in which hereditary chiefs have been responsible for the allocation, administration and control of their traditional lands.  Within these Houses, chiefs pass on important histories, songs, crests, lands, ranks and properties from one generation to the next. The passage of these legal, political, social and economic entitlements is witnessed through Feasts. These Feasts substantiate the territories’ relationships.  A hosting House serves food, distributes gifts, announces the House’s successors to the names of deceased chiefs, describes the territory, raises totem poles and tells the oral history of the House. Chiefs from other Houses witness the actions of the Feast and at the end of the proceedings they validate the decisions and declarations of the Host House.” [1]

All of the hereditary leaders from all of the five clans have withheld consent for new pipeline construction across Wet’suwet’en territories.

What is the formal relationship of the hereditary governance system of the Wet’suwet’en people to the elected band council system?

In a press conference yesterday, Premier John Horgan referred to the challenge of bringing together the “historic band councils” with the “emerging” hereditary systems of governance. In fact, the relationship is reversed. While the hereditary system has existed for millennia and precedes European arrival on the continent, the Band council system was introduced by the federal government in 1876 and imposed on Indigenous Nations through the Indian Act, as part of a post-Confederation assimilation policy.

As it is currently structured, each reserve community within a territory has an election for Chief and Council every few years. The elected Chief and Council under the Indian Act are primarily responsible for things that happen on reserves like water, housing, schools, infrastructure and other issues that affect membership. There are five elected band councils on Wet’suwet’en territory, four of whom have signed agreements with Coastal Gaslink. However, hereditary leaders say those agreements don’t apply to the territories off reserve.

The imposition of the Indian Act band council system over top of hereditary systems has created ongoing tensions in many communities.

The CBC’s Angela Sterritt has written an excellent piece on the differences between elected and hereditary leadership.

What is the relevance of the Delgamuukw decision in relation to the Wet’suwet’en?

Many Canadians have heard of the important 1997 Delgamuukw decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, which recognized that Aboriginal title continues to exist over land and water where Indigenous nations have never signed a treaty with the Crown. The territory referred to in the court decision is Wet’suwet’en territory as well as neighboring Gitxsan territory.

The Delgamuukw case was framed around traditional hereditary leadership. Delgamuukw is a chief’s name in the Gitxsan Nation, passed down through generations, and Delgamuukw was one of dozens of plaintiffs in the case, composed of hereditary chiefs from both the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en Nations. Together those leaders forced the Canadian courts to affirm the legitimacy of their oral histories, traditional laws and continuing governance of their lands.

Peter Grant, the lawyer for the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs has stated that hereditary chiefs need to give their free, prior and informed consent in order for the pipeline to be built: “We agree the rule of law has to apply, but doesn’t that mean that when there’s recognition of the proper title holder you deal with the proper title holder?”

On January 9, Unist’ot’en Camp released a statement on the emerging situation, saying “We paved the way with the Delgamuukw court case and the time has come for Delgamuukw II. We have never had the financial resources to challenge the colonial court system, due to the enormous price tag of an Aboriginal title case. Who will stand with us to make sure this pipeline does not go through?”

What is the relevance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to this conflict?

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) represents the basic principles and minimum standards that should guide states in their dealings with Indigenous peoples.[i] Canada became a full signatory (removing previous objections) to UNDRIP in 2016, and both the federal and BC provincial governments have committed to full implementation of UNDRIP. The Canadian government defines UNDRIP as a document that describes both individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples around the world.[ii]

A number of articles of UNDRIP are relevant to this conflict, in particular Article 10 which states: “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.”[iii]


I have great respect for the rule of law in this country. But I also know that we are now living in a time when both our provincial and federal governments have acknowledged Indigenous rights and commit to doing the work to implement UNDRIP…  and yet here we are, not acknowledging hereditary leadership and traditional law and governance that was in place long before our law was imposed.

The rule of law must now reflect the changing dynamics of UNDRIP, which has been passed in BC. Particularly in a province where our premier shares these thoughts with pride : 

“UNDRIP acknowledges the human rights of all people,” said Premier John Horgan. “UNDRIP is a recognition of Indigenous people because its their land. Land and language equal culture. It’s time we stand together and work toward mutual prosperity. We need to be sharing instead of dominating.”

By passing this bill and ultimately turning it into an act, it upholds the rights of Indigenous people to practise their culture and protocols, and honour their teachings, which includes language and ceremony. It also provides space to develop and grow their economic developments and initiatives.

During my conversation with Horgan, he explained to me that every act has a section at the beginning titled “Definitions,” where all the key words are listed along with their definitions.

In the Declaration Act, the “Definitions” section has been replaced with an “Interpretations” section. This is the first time in B.C. history this has been done.

“For this act we can only interpret it, we are sharing the information as it’s been told to us through oral traditions and storytelling,” said Horgan.

Well said Premier Horgan, but I do not understand how oral traditions, storytelling and universal rights of Indigenous peoples are acknowledged and enshrined in the governments recent bill…. yet ignored now because the hereditary chiefs who are opposed, continue to say no to this pipeline in their territory.

In this aspect, the rule of law granting this injunction is not just. It does not recognize the rights enshrined now in UNDRIP by the provincial government.

You cannot just stand and recognize this as fact in our house of government, you are obligated to do more than just ceremony.

You are obligated to do more than say that 20 elected bands and leadership have signed agreements, so therefore it is ok to ignore this one hereditary group of chiefs. It is not, at least I don’t think so. It is hypocritical and insincere.

You cannot pick and choose which nations matter and which do not. You cannot choose to acknowledge their governance and then choose to pretend it is of no consequence.

Every party elected in the legislature voted for UNDRIP. Every MLA stood to applaud it. Yet now? Silence.

According to this, the hereditary chiefs are willing to meet with the decision makers: the province, the feds and the RCMP, not Coastal Gaslink.

This IS the moment for both Horgan and Trudeau to do the hard work on Indigenous rights they have committed to do.

The world is watching.


14 thoughts on “All eyes on Wet’suwet’en

    1. From the Unist’ot’en facebook page (public):

      JANUARY 7, 2020: Late in the day January 4th, 2020 the Wet’suwet’en House Chiefs representing all 5 clans oversaw the successful eviction of Coastal Gaslink (CGL) employees from Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en territories. An eviction letter was provided to security at Site 9A and the eviction was done peacefully. The eviction letter clearly stated that workers were not to return to the territory without the consent of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

      Coastal GasLink workers have not been permitted to access the territory to continue work since the eviction. As far as we know, CGL intends to commit trespass on Wet’suwet’en lands and continue construction. They will likely rely on RCMP violence to force their way into our territories once more.

      Coastal Gaslink has framed their eviction from our territories as an “Unist’ot’en Action,” but this action was taken collectively, in accordance with ‘Anuk nu’at’en, our laws, and on behalf of all five clans of the Wet’suwet’en nation.

      There will be no access to Gidimt’en and Dark House territories without the free, prior, and informed consent of the hereditary chiefs.

      Today marks the one year anniversary of a heavily militarized raid on Wet’suwet’en territory at the Gidimt’en checkpoint where Wet’suwet’en people and their guests were forcibly removed by the RCMP tactical teams, including snipers authorized to use lethal force.

      The province has proclaimed they will implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which includes Free, Prior and Informed Consent, but has failed to intervene in this issue. Currently, the province, federal government, RCMP, and CGL have all violated Wet’suwet’en law.

      The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has called upon Canada to immediately halt the construction of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline until Wet’suwet’en people grant our free, prior, and informed consent to the project. The committee urges Canada to withdraw RCMP from our territories and to prohibit the use of force and lethal weapons against our people.

      The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs demand the following:

      – That the province cease construction of the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline project and suspend permits.

      – That the UNDRIP and our right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) are respected by the state and RCMP.

      – That the RCMP and associated security and policing services be withdrawn from Wet’suwet’en lands, in agreement with the most recent letter provided by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimiation’s (CERD) request.

      – That the provincial and federal government, RCMP and private industry employed by CGL respect our laws and our governance system, and refrain from using any force to access our lands or remove our people.

      There is no access to Wet’suwet’en territory without our consent. We are the title holders, and the Province must address the issue of our title if they want to gain access to our lands.


        1. A must read here.

          The eviction of Coastal GasLink (CGL) workers from Wet’suwet’en territory is in force and there will be no access without consent, hereditary chiefs said at a press conference in Smithers Tuesday afternoon.

          The chiefs also demanded “that the Province cease construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline project and suspend all permits.”

          Following a B.C. Supreme Court decision Dec. 31 to extend a December 2018 temporary injunction allowing the pipeline company access to a worksite near Houston, the chiefs decided to exercise Wet’suwet’en law and told the remaining workers (mainly security guards) at the site to leave on Jan. 4.

          The company complied and said when they returned on Jan. 5 they found trees felled on the Morice West Forest Service Road.

          The press conference comes exactly one year to the day after the arrests of 14 opponents of the LNG pipeline project when the RCMP moved in to enforce the injunction and removed a Unist’ot’en (Dark House) checkpoint on the road.

          Speaking to a group of supporters and members of the media at the Office of the Wet’suwet’en in Smithers Jan. 7, Chief Na’Moks (John Ridsdale) said the Wet’suwet’en have no plans to meet with CGL officials, adding that they are “uninvited” to the territory.

          In an email to The Interior News a spokesperson for Coastal Gaslink said the company is re-starting work this week across the 670-kilometre pipeline route but will not immediately go back to work at the Houston site and has requested a meeting with Na’Moks.

          “We believe that dialogue is preferable to confrontation and will delay re-mobilization near Workforce Accommodation site 9A while engagement and a negotiated resolution remain possible.

          facebook live

          “Based on Chief Na’Mok’s public comments, we anticipate a positive response to our meeting request and hope that a meeting can be set up quickly to resolve the issues at hand.”

          At the press conference Na’Moks disagreed. He said a meeting between hereditary chiefs and CGL officials would not happen.

          Instead, the Wet’suwet’en is requesting to meet with provincial and federal officials and the RCMP.

          “If there are going to be meetings it will be between the decision makers,” said Na’Moks.

          “That will be British Columbia, Canada and we would like to meet with the commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”

          READ MORE:

          RCMP arrest 14 people in northern B.C. over anti-LNG pipeline protest

          Wet’suwet’en First Nation looks ahead as court sides with natural gas company

          Wet’suwet’en evict Coastal GasLink from work site near Houston

          “We will not meet with local officials, we are the decision makers on this land. We will only meet with the decision makers. Coastal GasLink is merely a proponent and they are uninvited to this territory.”

          The Interior News reached out to the office of Premier John Horgan and was informed that Horgan was unavailable for an interview this week.

          “We have had communication with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on access issues. We will maintain our peaceful stance on that, but thus far there has been no communication between elected officials and ourselves.”

          During the conference Na’Moks also gave an update on the cause behind a number of felled trees on Morice West Forest Service Road.

          “This is for our safety,” he said. “We have done this.”

          He said there is no more trust today than there was preceding and following the events of Jan. 7, 2019.

          “We have insecure thoughts on what [the RCMP] may do. They are not being clear to us on what their plans are. We are very clear and very open on what we do. We need to know what their plans are.”

          In an emailed response to The Interior News an RCMP spokesperson said they were aware of the eviction notice and that their priority is to assess the situation and engage with industry, Indigenous communities and governments to faciliate a resolution which “ensures any protest activity is lawful, peaceful and safe.”

          “Our frontline officers working out of the Community-Industry Safety Office (C-ISO) will continue to conduct patrols along the Morice West Forest Service Road corridor. The temporary detachment was placed there with the support of the hereditary chiefs on January 10, 2019 for a consistent and proximate police presence.

          “We remain committed to ensuring the safety and security of all individuals involved and will take the actions necessary, using a carefully measured and scalable approach, should there be any criminal activities that pose a threat to individuals or property.”

          Throughout the meeting Na’Moks stressed multiple times that the Wet’suwet’en are a peaceful people and want a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

          “We are peaceful. But we will protect our territory. We are the rights and title holders. Once again I will remind you British Columbia and Canada only has assumed and presumed authority.

          “We have 22,000 square kilometres of unceded, undefeated, non-treaty land that we speak on behalf of.”

          In response to a question about whether or not further actions similar to last year when individuals physically blocked CGL contractors from accessing the site could be expected again this year, Na’Moks said he would not characterize the action as a blockade but that all the hereditary chiefs will support and enforce the eviction they have served CGL with.

          All the chiefs have agreed to it but we will do it peacefully. If they wish to force their way on that is not our choice, that is theirs. But we want pure communication between themselves and ourselves. This is our land. The access can only be given by the house the clans and the hereditary chiefs.”

          The Wet’suwet’en are also calling for an international week of solidarity from “Indigenous and non-indigenous communities who uphold Indigenous sovereignty and recognize the urgency of stopping resources extraction projects that threaten the lives of future generations.”

          “I don’t believe a true democratic country would allow this to happen… businesses don’t steer a country… they have to listen to the people,” Na’Moks said, adding that Jan. 7, 2019 is a day that has been ingrained into his peoples’ history.

          “We will never ever forget what happened on this day last year. It goes into Wet’suwet’en history. It goes into British Columbian history. It goes into Canadian history.

          “This is part of our story.”


  1. How are you doing Laila. Hope you had a great holiday. Anyways, looks like the standard same ,same old. Government and the courts working to the drum beat of the corporate master. Could it be said the RCMP is in some ways is the Royal Corporate Mounted Police. Just pondering.


    1. ” Royal Corporate Mounted Police” …. That’s going to stay with me for a while.
      I know many really good mounties. And I have met some real assholes,most in higher commanding positions who did not like to be questioned or called out.The bad ones make it harder for the good ones to do their job and that is part of the culture some are trying to change within the RCMP.
      Because of the leak of operational material to the Guardian that mentioned lethal overwatch ( essentially snipers),I think the RCMP will step carefully on the enforcement of this injunction. Or at least I hope so. Right now they have set up a checkpoint, aka an exclusion zone and are limiting access to hereditary chiefs only, and not allowing anyone else to bring supplies in. Very reminiscent of the Reservation Pass system that was once used.


      1. FYI, most who are following will know by now that like he was with site C, Horgan is full steam ahead on this project, because this is the pipeline that will supply gas to the LNG plant in Kitimat.

        It’s rather funny. I said that Horgan would not stop Site C, and I was right. I also said he wouldn’t use every tool in the toolbox for the TransCanada pipeline and his opposition was a show, and I was right about that too. And now this. Of course he won’t step in. This is his baby. The LNG plant Clark couldnt get done,is only happening because Horgan increased the subsidies and handouts to the foreign owners, which finally prompted them to make a final investment decision in 2018.

        Its a one trick pony that perpetuates the boom and bust economy inherent to so many single focused resource towns in BC, that have nothing else to fall back on. ( Partly because no one wants to do the work to create new, long term sustaining jobs not inherently damaging to the climate ) And the moral righteousness being used to greenwash it all is a bunch of disingenuous crap easily shown to be false.
        1) China has not only sold, but also financed coal plants to several developing countries eager for cheap power. China is not so quietly backtracking on climate commitments and goals, and are actively bringing new coal power plants online to power tech companies that build all the items the worlds consumerism demands

        2) Even as the current glut of LNG continues, the seeds for the next glut – anticipated to occur in the mid 2020’s – are being planted. Prices will rise for a short time when the current ongoing glut calms ( and this is questionable), then fall again when all the new LNG plants currently in build stage come online. This includes the Kitimat plant and is likely why Chevron is trying to bail. Savvy corporations are heeding these analysts forecasts and looking to diversify portfolios…. (which is exactly what Chevron stated in their press release).

        Someone should be asking Horgan and Mungall why they are continuing to bank all their bucks on a one trick pony like LNG in BC, instead of putting seriously concentrated efforts into creating diversified and resilient communities in the north and the interior, that don’t rely on these boom and bust economies.


        1. The Canadian Association of J ournalists is urging the RCMP to remain open and transparent, and allow media continued access to the exclusion zone in Wet’suwet’en Territory so the media can report fairly and accurately on events as they unfold. 

          The British Columbia Supreme Court has granted Coastal GasLink an interlocutory injunction against members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation and others who oppose the company’s natural gas pipeline. RCMP have set up a 27- kilometer exclusion zone. 

          “We do not want to see a repeat of last year’s behaviour, when the RCMP used an exclusion zone to block journalists’ access, making it impossible to provide details on a police operation that was very much in the public interest,” said CAJ President Karyn Pugliese. “I urge the RCMP to respect the media’s Charter right to keep the public informed.”

          In January 2019, an injunction ordered that no one could come within 10 metres of any person or vehicle related to the project. The RCMP, however, used the court order to restrict access to everyone, including journalists, from coming within 27 kilometers of the Gidimt’en camp while police moved in on demonstrators. RCMP have maintained their reason for doing so was to protect journalists’ safety, despite intelligence that little resistance was expected from the Hereditary chiefs, women and children at the camp. At least one reporter was told she could face arrest if she tried to step inside the exclusion zone.

          Last month, the newspaper The Guardianreported that internal documents showed  RCMP commanders instructed officers to “use as much violence toward the gate as you want” and stating that “lethal overwatch is req’d” ahead of the operation. In one document police admitted to hiding carbine rifles on the approach to the roadblock because the “optics” of the weapons were “not good”. RCMP said they have not seen the documents quoted in the article, and “cannot verify the validity of the statements made in the article or of the documents themselves.”

          Since the January 2019 injunction, a landmark court decision commonly known as the Justin Brake case reaffirmed that special considerations apply to journalists covering a protest even when an injunction order has been issued. Considerations include considering if the person is engaged in good faith journalistic coverage, is not actively assisting the protesters, is not interfering with law enforcement and if the matters being reported on are of public interest.

          In that case, decided by the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal in March 2019, Justice Derek Green vacated an injunction he found was improperly applied to journalist Justin Brake, who had been present as a journalist at an Indigenous-led demonstration against the Muskrat Falls Hydro project.  Green also noted the importance of the media in advancing reconciliation and understanding of Indigenous peoples and issues stating that “particular consideration should be given to protests involving Aboriginal issues.”

          “Both the Charter and the courts grant journalists a legitimate right to be on the scene and the RCMP must not use an injunction to shield itself from public scrutiny,” said Pugliese.  “We will be watching closely.”


      2. Yes i agree with the problem mostly lies at the feet of the RCMP big brass as opposed to the regular ranks. To bad they have to follow the drum beat. Part of that job sign up i guess. Very sad sometimes.


    1. On top of growing solidarity actions of support for Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs,a group of Indigenous youth,many young women wearing traditional hats, occupied Michelle Mungalls ministry of mines and energy office lobby saying they would not leave. Neither Horgan who was in PG, or Mungall made statements last night

      They locked down peacefully, and were nothing but peaceful. Overnight police went in and arrested them.

      Live tweets and photos here


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