As CGL prepares to drill in Wet’suwet’en lands, Indigenous protesters call for action

The controversial Coastal GasLink pipeline is expected to begin drilling near headwaters of a prominent river inside Wet’suwet’en territory

September 21, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Drilling equipment was transported to the drillsite at Camp Coyote, near the headwaters of Wedzin Kwa or Morice River. (Photo: Gidimt’en Checkpoint)

Indigenous protesters have raised the alarm as drilling for the contentious Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline in Canada is likely to commence soon. In a statement calling for action released on Monday, September 19, the Gidimt’en Checkpoint revealed that CGL has transported drilling equipment to the controversial drillsite in the area known as “Coyote Camp” near the headwaters of Wedzin Kwa, or Morice River.

According to pictures released along with the statement, the drillsite is ready to undertake the highly contentious drilling work under the river. “Coastal Gaslink equipment is now in position to drill beneath the Wedzin Kwa river,” read the statement released on Monday. The river is a major source of fresh drinking water in the Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia, while its headwaters are a salmon breeding area.

Indigenous activists have long opposed drilling for the pipeline near the headwaters of the river over concerns of possible pollution of the river and disruption of the salmon population in the region which will also affect locals who depend on fishing for their livelihood.

The pipeline project, owned by a TC Energy subsidiary and expected to cost around CAD 6.6 billion (nearly USD 5 billion), has long been opposed by leaders and activists of the Wet’suwet’en community who claim Indigenous sovereignty over their unceded lands.

“Wet’suwet’en territory is unceded, unsurrendered, and sovereign, and Wet’suwet’en people have never provided Free, Prior, and Informed Consent to the Coastal Gaslink pipeline’s destructive construction operations,” reiterated the statement released by the Gidimt’en checkpoint.

The construction of the proposed pipeline has been stalled for over two years due to vehement resistance by Indigenous protesters, who have  occupied the site and blockaded the drillsite and pipeline pathways.

In their call for action, the Gidimt’en clan, part of the larger Wet’suwet’en tribe, has also called attention to the heavy policing and surveillance of Indigenous lands, homes, and protest sites, led by the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

“In advance of CGL’s drilling operations, Wet’suwet’en community members have faced increased surveillance and harassment from RCMP’s C-IRG unit and a series of private security contractors,” the statement reads. “Wet’suwet’en village sites remain under 24 hour surveillance, while police have made several arbitrary violent arrests, including with pepper spray.”

The Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) unit was founded in 2017 as an extension of the RCMP in British Columbia and is infamous for undertaking various repressive attacks against Indigenous people who have been protesting environmental pollution. The RCMP and CGL have also reportedly hired private security contractor Forsythe to crack down on protesters in Wet’suwet’en lands.

With the backing of a provincial Supreme Court injunction in British Columbia, the RCMP has conducted multiple violent raids against protesters since 2019. More than 70 arrests have been made so far, and dozens continue to face prosecution, including tribal elders and land defenders.

The latest such crackdown took place between November and December of 2021, when over 30 arrests were made by the police to dismantle an Indigenous blockade of the drillsite. The RCMP reportedly spent a total of CAD 943,234 (approximately USD 705,000) during the period on the policing the Wet’suwet’en lands.

The strong police and judicial crackdown against the protesters forced a strategic retreat earlier this year, but their protests and outreach for solidarity and support have continued. “We will never stop defending our yintah (land) the way our ancestors have done for thousands of years,” Gidimt’en Checkpoint’s statement added. “The pipeline will never be put into service.”