Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks says he understands the police have a job to do, but his people have the right to be on their territory.
Na’Moks was responding to growing rumours that the RCMP are getting ready to enforce an interim court injunction to clear people out of the Unist’ot’en camp to allow work to get underway by Coastal GasLink.
“Our law says that there are trespass laws and our people are there to protect the territory, and we will express the fact that this is trespass and our hope is that nothing violent will happen, but … we are peaceful people and all we want is for the pipeline not to go through,” said Na’Moks.
While there has been “no solid confirmation” about RCMP action, Na’Moks says he is aware of heavier vehicle traffic in the area and hotels in three nearby towns are full.
On Dec. 14, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Marguerite Church ruled that Coastal GasLink could proceed with its plans to build a pipeline to deliver natural gas to the LNG Canada terminal project. The work would have to go through the Unist’ot’en House Group, as Na’Moks refers to it, which has year-round residents living there along with a healing centre. Unist’ot’en was ordered to remove barriers that block access to the Morice Lake Forest Service Road and bridge.
However, the court order has resulted in the Gitdumt'en Clan of the Wet'suwet'en offering its support by erecting an access point about 20 km away along the same logging road. There are about 12 to 20 people at that point.
The action was taken, said Na’Moks, because ““we don’t believe that the judge took fully into consideration that this is a nation that stands together and we’re absolutely opposed to the pipeline.”
The approximately 700 km long pipeline will carry natural gas from northeastern B.C. to a liquefied natural gas plant slated for construction in Kitimat. It is part of an estimated $40 billion natural gas project.
“We have a human right to protect clean water, (there’s) so very little left on this planet. That’s all we want, is our rights, title and our freedoms and access to clean air and water and land,” said Na’Moks.
Na’Moks says Coastal GasLink’s lawyer is pushing for the two sites to be vacated the first week in January as any delay would impede the company’s timelines. However, Na’Moks points out that heavy snowfall and cold weather at this time makes preparatory work impossible.
The injunction states that Coastal GasLink must have access to the road and bridge blocked by the Unist’ot’en House Group by Jan. 31.
Na’Moks says they are considering their options, including possible court action, but will not be making any decision on how to proceed as of yet.
“At this point in time, we’re actually waiting to see what they’re going to do. As I stated, we want to remain peaceful but we do have to defend our rights and titles,” he said.
Unist’ot’en territory, like most of B.C., has never been sold, ceded, or surrendered through treaty.
The Yellowhead Institute, an Indigenous think tank headquartered at Ryerson University, says what transpires in this incident is a “test case for respecting Aboriginal title and Indigenous governance…. The Unist’ot’en House Group’s right to determine the use of their territory, their right to Aboriginal title, includes the right to say “no” to projects that threaten the health and sustainability of their land and people.
“There is no access to Unist’ot’en territories without consent of the Hereditary Chiefs who hold stewardship over the lands. No pipelines without consent. The terms of meaningful consultation are not met when companies like Trans Canada and Coastal Gaslink ignore Indigenous governance and law.”
The Hereditary Chiefs have unanimously rejected the proposal.