The last two weeks have seen an outpouring of direct action demonstrations across the country against the B.C. provincial and Canadian federal governments, in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people and their struggle to assert sovereignty over their territories.
The Wet’suwet’en people’s territory rights and title were affirmed by the Canadian Supreme Court in the historic 1997 Delgamuukw v. British Columbia case, but despite this, they have faced persistent encroachments by Coastal GasLink (CGL) in its attempts to push through a pipeline for the transportation of liquefied natural gas. As represented by their hereditary chiefs, the Wet’suwet’en people remain unanimously opposed to the construction of this pipeline, and in addition to this strongly voiced opposition, have maintained the Unist’ot’en Camp directly in its path and set up the Gidimt’en checkpoint to control access to their territory.
On Jan. 4, the Wet’suwet’en formally evicted all CGL employees from the territory, and under threat of invasion from the RCMP, put out an international call to action to put pressure on the Canadian and B.C. governments. In addition to their continued requests for a meeting with B.C. Premier John Horgan, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs issued a list of demands. The demands included cessation of construction on the CGL pipeline, the withdrawal of the RCMP from Wet’suwet’en territory, and that UNDRIP and principles of free, prior, and informed consent be respected by the government and the RCMP.
In response to this call, supporters of the Wet’suwet’en people on these Lkwungen territories separately organized back-to-back direct actions, shutting down the Swartz Bay BC Ferries terminal on the morning of Jan. 20, and conducting an Indigenous youth-led sit-in of the Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources for over 18 hours. The sit-in lasted from Jan. 21 into the morning of Jan. 22 before the Wet’suwet’en supporters were forcibly removed by municipal police.
Since CGL’s eviction, the RCMP have established an exclusion zone, setting up a checkpoint to restrict access to the territory, citing safety concerns. In a statement released on Jan. 30, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to a week of discussions with the BC government to de-escalate the conflict. In an email to CBC, the RCMP indicated their intent to remain on stand-by for the duration of the talks, but also remarked that “additional resources may be noted in the Smithers-Houston area,” re-affirming numerous reports of heavy and growing police presence in the region.
Tensions are high as the land defenders anticipate a repeat of last year’s raid on the Gidimt’en checkpoint, and all eyes remain on Wet’suwet’en.