As the movement against the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline project in Canada continues, indigenous Wet’suwet’en activists have approached the United Nations to raise their concerns about indigenous rights violations. In a submission filed to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, February 7, activists of the Gidimt’en clan of Wet’suwet’en raised the issues of forced industrialization, police militarization and violation of the rights of indigenous peoples.
The eight-page document points out that Canada has overlooked its international obligations under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). It stated that Canada has violated several rights of the community, including the right to conserve and protect traditional lands, and has forcibly removed clan members from their territories.
“Ongoing human rights violations, militarization of Wet’suwet’en lands, forcible removal and criminalization of peaceful land defenders, and irreparable harm due to industrial destruction of Wet’suwet’en lands and cultural sites are occurring despite declarations by federal and provincial governments for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples,” the submission reads.
“By deploying legal, political, and economic tactics to violate our rights, Canada and BC (British Columbia) are contravening the spirit of reconciliation, as well as … UNDRIP and international law.”
Wet’suwet’en activists and hereditary tribal chiefs have been engaged in a protracted battle against the 640 km long CGL pipeline by TC Energy, a crucial part of which is to run through native lands. A major drillsite for the pipeline is also positioned close to the headwaters of the Wedzin Kwa river, a source of drinking water for many and considered sacred by the Wet’suwet’en clans.
Since late 2018, when physical occupations and demonstrations at the drill sites and the proposed path of the pipeline began, land defenders have faced repeated crackdowns from the authorities, usually led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The most recent crackdown occurred in November last year which broke a 56-day-long blockade by the Gidimt’en clan. It led to 30 arrests, including of journalists covering the developments from the protest site. Activists who were arrested in that crackdown are set to appear before the provincial supreme court on February 14.
Activists took a strategic retreat after the most recent two-week-long blockade at a drill site near Camp Coyote was disbanded on January 4 in a bid to avoid further arrests and criminalization.
“Reconciliation will not come at the barrel of a gun,” the Gidimt’en clan’s submission asserted. “Canada and B.C. must withdraw the RCMP and associated policing and security services from our territory, and must immediately halt construction and suspend all permits for the construction of the CGL pipeline.”
The submission calls for the document to be presented in the upcoming regular session of the UNHRC in September and also asks for a UN delegation to visit the Wet’suwet’en lands. The submission is supported by various indigenous rights groups and organizations like the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Amnesty International Canada, and BC Civil Liberties Association.
“Wet’suwet’en is an international frontline to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples and to prevent climate change,” said Molly Wickham or Sleydo’, a spokesperson of the Gidimt’en checkpoint who jointly drafted the submission along with Jen Wickham and hereditary Wet’suwet’en chief, Chief Woos. “Yet we are intimidated and surveilled by armed RCMP, smeared as terrorists, and dragged through colonial courts. This is the reality of Canada,” she said.
Activists and hereditary chiefs have long asserted their sovereign right over a stretch of 22,000 sq.km of land in northern British Columbia province. Hereditary chiefs have held that these lands were never ceded to either British Columbia or the federal government and that they have fought legal battles to protect their rights on the territories for decades.
These lands, along with the lands of the neighboring Gitxsan nation, were also subject to the 1997 landmark ruling in the Delgamuukw vs. British Columbia case in the supreme court. The ruling set a judicial precedent of aboriginal lands being part of aboriginal rights for the first time in the country.