Chiefs from the B.C. coast, Interior and Northwest converged in Smithers to show support for the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ opposition to the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline.
Support included, among others, Gitxsan and members of the Lax Kw’alaams who occupied Lelu Island off the coast by Prince Rupert in opposition to the now-cancelled Pacific Northwest LNG terminal there.
The Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project would have been the pipeline that ran through Gitxsan territory to supply it. A Gitxsan camp similar to the Unist’ot’en was set up called Madii Lii to block that natural gas pipeline. It is still set up near Hazelton.
Over 200 packed the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre in Smithers to hear from the chiefs outside of the pipeline route, and Unist’ot’en camp and Gitdumden checkpoint members.
Unist’ot’en camp founder and spokesperson Freda Huson explained how she has been by the bridge over the Morice River just off Morice West Forest Service Road for a decade, originally in opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway oil pipeline and to reclaim the territory for traditional purposes meant to make a stronger title claim.
Huson is one of the named defendants in the interim injunction request granted by B.C. Supreme Court to last until May 1, and the more permanent injunction request from Coastal GasLink that she has until Jan. 31 to respond to.
“We’ve been doing this for the last 10 years. I’ve walked away from my job for the last eight years. So I tell people lost wages, all of that, is probably over $200,000 for the last years I’ve been there. And it wasn’t for myself, I did it for the little ones because it’s for them.
“We have a little four-year-old. Her afterbirth was put in a tree out on the territory, the very territory that’s getting invaded right now by industry because of a court injunction. And for the world out there who thinks Unist’ot’en has given up, we have not,” Huson said to cheers.
“That land is still ours. We haven’t gave it to anybody.”
She also spoke of the international support for the camp before lambasting the RCMP for surveillance on their activity.
“When the white man occupies the territory it becomes theirs; we occupy our own territory they use police force to remove us. That’s not right. And the whole world is watching what the government and the police forces are doing,” Huson said at the podium as video streamed on social media.
“If they want us to go through their systems, we’ll go through their systems to thwart all the lies of industry.”
The offer from Coastal GasLink to not ask that the Unist’ot’en camp and healing centre built up over the last couple years be removed was compared to being put on a reservation by Huson.
“That’s not what the healing centre needs, [it needs] the whole territory to teach our people about our culture — berry picking, medicine,” said Huson.
The chief responsible for the Dark House territory where the camp sits then spoke.
“Over the summer the RCMP, they run into me. They want to come out there to protect us, and what I saw out there, they’re not protecting us,” said Chief Knedebeas (Warner William).
He explained how only four hereditary chiefs could be there when Coastal GasLink (CGL) representatives wanted to follow through with the injunction.
“We told them that there was two deaths in our community … but CGL guy said ‘we’ve been talking for the last six years, we don’t come to agreement. Injunction is going to begin,’ ” said Knedebeas, who also mentioned how he felt an agreement on free movement with the RCMP was broken when the neighbouring Gitdumden clan blockade members were themselves blocked by police from going to area cabins.
As part of her time at the microphone in the Friendship Centre, Gitdumden checkpoint spokesperson Molly Wickham described her arrest and explained the importance of a burnt flag found after the RCMP clearing of a blockade set up at the checkpoint. She said it would be a flying symbol of resistance. Fires that burned the flag had been set by members of the blockade.
Then supporters hit the streets to march from Coast Mountain College on Queen Street to Highway 16, to Main Street and finishing up at Bovill Square for more speeches and drumming.
Once there, Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chief Na’moks (John Ridsdale) took another turn at the microphone.
“The way they put the messaging out, they simply do not regard us as human beings, it’s that simple. They label us and forget that we are human beings. Do we not drink the same water, do we not breathe the same air? That is a human right. Currently, the way that they have been labelling us is not proper in a democratic country. When our neighbouring nations and you yourselves come together, you remind them that this country is yours. It does not belong to industry.
“It’s very fortunate for us that if we do not like the elected government, we could vote them out. We always say that we can control our future, and then we go home and we forget about that. You have to keep it in your mind, this is your country too.
“We as Wet’suwet’en, we as chiefs, we put on our blankets, that is the land. It says for the betterment of all. That is all of you, too. The jurisdiction and the authority of the hereditary chiefs will never ever leave this territory. And yet your Prime Minister is trying to explain to the world that we don’t exist,” said Na’moks.
Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with 20 elected band councils along the natural gas pipeline route, including Wet’suwet’en bands. The position of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs is that bands can only sign agreements for projects within their boundaries, and that the hereditary chiefs make decisions on anything outside those boundaries.
The hereditary chiefs announced their staunch opposition to any pipeline going through their territory last June. Before that, it was their position that Coastal GasLink needed to negotiate with any house group, including the Dark House where the Unist’ot’en camp is, that opposed construction. Under Wet’suwet’en law, each of the 15 house groups under the five clans are responsible for their own territory.
Premier John Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau support the Coastal GasLink project and the LNG Canada terminal at the end of the line in Kitimat. Horgan stated he believed the requirements for Indigenous consultation had been met.