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.
”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.”
“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.”
Na’Moks said there has been no response from any level of government or from the RCMP to this point.
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.”
With files from Thom Barker