A year after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) attacked camps of Indigenous protesters opposing the controversial Coastal GasLink oil pipeline through their traditional land, it has now restricted access to the Wet’suwet’en territory. On January 13, the RCMP put up checkpoints on three main service roads which were used by the protesters to set up camps and makeshift checkpoints. This effectively blocks access to Indigenous activists and traditional chiefs, who have been protesting the construction of the pipeline for nearly 12 years.
Activists are opposed to the pipeline due to serious concerns of damage to the environment through its construction and possible oil spills, as well as the desecration of sacred sites and artifacts. Nevertheless, the provincial government of British Columbia and the federal government, armed with state supreme court injunction passed on December 14, 2018, have been trying to push through the construction of the pipeline.
In a joint statement, the traditional chiefs who have been leading the protests against the pipeline called for the state premier John Horgan to negotiate with the tribal leadership, in pursuit of the province’s commitment of protecting indigenous rights. They have argued that the government along with the court have undermined the rights of the traditional Wet’suwet’en leadership and their laws in pursuit of a pipeline that the government has subsidized with billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money.
Since 2010, protesters have set up makeshift checkpoints and camps blocking the pathway of the pipeline. In January 2019, the RCMP uprooted the camps and arrested several protesters in a violent evacuation drive.
While the land has been recognized to be “unceded”, or not technically under Canadian sovereignty, pending a treaty between the state government of British Columbia and the tribe, the Canadian legal system does not recognize the powers of the hereditary chiefs to arbitrate on behalf of the tribe and the land.