We should be focused on natural resource preservation, not economic benefits
Manjot Kaur // Contributor
The Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline’s planned site of construction is on Wet’suwet’en traditional territory. The unceded land has a population of around 5,000, and is composed of five clans: Gilseyhu, Likhts’amisyu, Laksilyu, Tsayu and Gidimt’en. Defendants of the project praise the economic benefits of the pipeline, but overlook the long and short-term damage to the environment. During a time of heightened awareness and education surrounding Indigenous peoples and the intensifying climate crisis, it’s entirely unjustifiable.
The Wet’suwet’en Nation, along with most Indigenous people in British Columbia, never signed treaties to hand their territory over to the Government of Canada—yet on Dec. 14, 2018, the Provincial Court of BC granted TransCanada (now known as TC Energy) a mandatory injunction to access the pipeline construction site on Wet’suwet’en land. While certain elected officials of the First Nations peoples have signed off on the construction of this pipeline, the inherent Chiefs, and more importantly, the “caretakers” of the land, have not. The planned site for the pipeline runs over Morice River which many of the clans rely on.
In response to Wet’suwet’en sovereignty being breached and the territory being invaded, protestors formed the Gitimd’en checkpoint at Unist’ot’en camp, and put up a roadblock to prevent TC Energy from gaining access to the site. The protestors held their position for weeks, throughout extreme weather conditions.
This checkpoint is on Gilseyhu clan territory, and is operated by the people of the headwaters. On Jan. 7, 2020, the RCMP took on the responsibility of eliminating resistance, and argued for the need of full force against the peaceful protestors, among which children were present. These orders allowed for “shoot to kill” action. Upon notice of these reports, human rights activists reached out to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for immediate action to prevent further violence against the Unist’ot’en. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip acknowledged that the recent progressions are a “significant development,” but that it is “somewhat frustrating and embarrassing that the UN has to chide the government of Canada and the provincial government with respect to what the rule of law is in this country in regard to Indigenous land rights, Indigenous human rights.”
Despite these developments, the RCMP have increased their personnel and equipment in the area in the past year. As of the second week of Jan. 2020, they have declared the area an “exclusion zone,” by denying access to reporters, and restricting the delivery of critical food, medical and winter supplies to land defenders, posing threats by government drones and helicopter surveillance.
What right does the government of Canada have to allow for the construction of an environmentally damaging project on the unceded land of the Wet’suwet’en nation in the first place? This is a fine example of government twisting the law to their benefit. The hereditary Chiefs have urged Premier John Horgan to meet with them to discuss the matter, rather than force their hand through the RCMP. Premier Horgan’s public statements declared the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as “forward looking,” and not applicable to the CGL. This is in stark contrast to Horgans speech at a Witset, Mar. 16, 2019 balhats (potluck), where the Wet’suwet’en people collectively witnessed Premier Horgan commit to “genuine cooperation” with the Wet’suwet’en Nation.
In the Delgamuuk-Gisday’wa proceeding, the Supreme Court of Canada concluded that Wet’suwet’en Nation territory has never been signed off to the Government of Canada, and that development operations must be with the consent of Indigenous hereditary Chiefs. By this right, Premier Horgan also has publicly lied about having permission to operate on the project, when permits to operate on the territory were never given by the Wet’suwet’en people.
This injunction alone is itself a violent act of colonialism. The instruction given by RCMP officers to use violence and permit lethal action is ongoing proof of the Canadian government’s violence towards Indigenous people.
Economic benefits achieved through these aggressive means are no longer beneficial when weighed against the emotional, physical and environmental damage of this project. In this self-proclaimed green-minded society, there should be more awareness in areas that concern the depletion of the world’s natural resources. It’s time to take our “green” practices further than having municipally run recycling programs. The surplus of jobs created by the CGL project amount to nothing when, eventually, there are no natural resources left for us to feed off of.
Updates are being posted on the Gidimt’en checkpoint Instagram page, @gidimten_checkpoint.