Indigenous people from Prince Rupert are joining protests across the country in response to arrests made in Wet’suwet’en traditional lands southwest of Smithers.
At 10 a.m. on Jan. 8, a group of approximately eleven people met outside the Prince Rupert RCMP station on Sixth Avenue West. They are members of Hartley Bay, Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla, Kitkatla, Tahltan, Haida, Gitxsan and Cherokee First Nations.
“What is happening to them is outrageous,” said Lara Peterson, a Metlakatla member and one of the organizers of the protest. “They’re arresting elderly women and other women for standing their ground and saying they want clean water.
“…In order for everybody to know and to be heard, this is what we have to do and we’re not going to back down and we’re not going away.”
After gathering outside the entrance of RCMP station on Sixth Avenue, the group moved to McBride Street where they held signs and chanted slogans. Cars drove by and honked their support.
On Jan. 7, RCMP officers arrested 14 people who are part of an effort to block the Coastal GasLink pipeline from being built on their lands.
The Unist’ot’en camp, Gitdumden checkpoint blocked a forest service road needed by Coastal GasLink workers to do pre-construction in the area for the pipeline. The RCMP were enforcing a court injunction against the protesters and the checkpoint impeding the progress of the workers.
“The primary concerns of the police are public safety, police officer safety, and preservation of the right to peaceful, lawful and safe protest, within the terms set by the Supreme Court in the injunction,” a Jan. 6 RCMP press release said.
A post on the Unist’ot’en Facebook page said the RCMP enforcement was an “act of war,” and called for international help with donations or “physical support.”
The Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs threw their support behind the Wet’suwet’en chiefs in a press release on Jan. 8.
“We consider all persons to be trespassers that attempt to use a permit issued and sold by the Province of BC in these circumstance,” said Simogyet Twem Neak, Brenton Williams, chair person of Gitxsan Treaty Society. “Our hereditary chiefs are obligated to step in to protect our jursidiction and at the same time we are prepared to engage in a collaborative process and dialogue with a progressive MLA like Minister Doug Donaldson.”
Fifty-five rallies have since taken place in communities both across the country and internationally in response to the arrests.
On Jan. 7, Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen released a statement asking the federal government to engage with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to find a resolution to the issue.
“I am calling on the federal government to engage with the Wet’suwet’en and demonstrate Prince Minister Trudeau’s commitment to real and meaningful reconciliation,” Cullen said.
The 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline project would move natural gas from Dawson Creek to the LNG Canada facility on the coast of Kitimat.
With files from Chris Gareau
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