Enforcing a court injunction allowing TransCanada access to land south of Houston is “an act of war,” according to a statement posted on Unist’ot’en Camp website.
A heavy police presence at hotels in Smithers over the weekend have put those manning Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en checkpoints on high alert as they expect police to enforce a December 14 injunction this week. The injunction ordered opponents of TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to allow workers to access the area and begin work on a pipeline. The Wet’suwet’en erected a gate across the Morice River bridge on the Morice River Forest Service Road in 2012 and have blocked access since then. A healing centre has since been built at the site.
According to the Unist’ot’en post, members of the RCMP’s Aboriginal Police Liaison met with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs on the weekend and indicated that tactical forces will be deployed to remove Wet’suwet’en people the checkpoints.
“The RCMP’s ultimatum, to allow TransCanada access to un-ceded Wet’suwet’en territory or face police invasion, is an act of war,” reads the post. “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 un-ceded homelands can be exploited for profit.”
It seems unlikely those at the camp will voluntarily allow access.
“We are now preparing for a protracted struggle,” reads Unist’ot’en website. “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.”
In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Wet’suwet’en, as represented by their hereditary leaders, had not given up rights and title to 22,000 square kilometres of northern British Columbia. The court ordered that a new trial was required to determine whether Aboriginal title had been established for these lands, and to hear from other Indigenous nations which have a stake in the territory claimed, according to an RCMP statement.
“The new trial has never been held, meaning that Aboriginal title to this land, and which Indigenous nation holds it, has not been determined,” reads the statement. “Regardless of the outcome of any such trial in the future, the RCMP is the police agency with jurisdiction.
“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. 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.”
As for the heavy police presence in surrounding communities, the RCMP say that, given the remote location of the Morice River Bridge they are ensuring enough police officers will be present in the area to keep the peace and ensure everyone’s safety. Regular day-to-day policing operations in the Houston area will be unaffected.
Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen is headed to the camp site today “to support the chiefs message of peace and respect for the land and the law,” he posted on his Facebook page. “I’ve spoken with the RCMP as well and we must have dialogue and not confrontation if we hope to settle this dispute.”