Militarized Responses to Land Defenders: “A Frightening Thing”
It has been over three years since the British Columbia government granted an injunction authorizing the removal of ‘obstructions’ on any road, bridges, or work sites to prepare for the Coastal GasLink project. Obstructions included things like “cabins and gates,” however, over time, this definition of ‘obstruction’ was seemingly extended to include people. The action of granting the injunction, and subsequent actions by the federal and provincial governments, has resulted in scores of land defenders taking a stand against the Canadian state, which has been wrongly asserting sovereignty over unceded lands for years. These demonstrations have led to numerous solidarity demonstrations across the country. Even three years later, many land defenders are still standing up for what is right, at a great risk to themselves.
When discussing the environment and land defenders, it is important to note that terminology is important. Journalist Rhea Rollmann has explained that the distinction between the word ‘protester’ and ‘defender’ is very important. “Protesters are people who are complaining about something. ‘Defenders’ are people who are defending something to which they have a right—land, human rights, equality. The term [defender] is a much more accurate one.”
Rollmann goes on to say, “By refusing to acknowledge the constitutional and inherent rights of Indigenous peoples, including rights to their land and to a way of life that depends upon the health of the land, media are siding with white settlers and their view of the world. It’s not objective reporting—it’s reporting that takes as its point of departure the worldview and the legal framework of white settler governments.”
When we consider the way that the media covers the stories about the land defenders, we see the words “protest” and “protestors,” and our minds will quickly and unconsciously turn to view these defenders as people who are complaining and who are angry. Rather than seeing a Nation asserting sovereignty over their lands, they are portrayed as “angry protestors,” which is surely missing the mark. When we begin to view the land defenders as mere protesters, and as a mere barrier to economic development, it makes it easier for society to accept the violent and militarized responses being used against them.
It is abundantly clear that the current methods of “enforcement” being used by the federal and provincial governments are not working. In fact, CBC News has reported that over the last five years, the “RCMP squad charged with policing resistance to resource extraction in British Columbia spent nearly $50 million enforcing injunctions obtained by the petroleum and forestry sectors.” It goes without saying that this enormous amount of money would be better spent exploring different methods to solve the problems happening in B.C.
Maybe spending money on “automatic weapons and snipers” and on “helicopters and dogs” isn’t the most reasonable, or even the safest way to move forward. The Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs sure see it this way and attempted to ban the Mounties’ Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) from trespassing or being deployed on unceded lands. Disappointingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the RCMP stated that they will not comply with the order by the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs.
There have been hundreds of complaints filed against the C-IRG, and they are currently under investigation for countless allegations of “excessive force, illegal tactics, unprofessional behviour, racism, discrimination and Charter violations.” I hope that, through these investigations, the truth comes out about the mistreatment and outright violence against land defenders, leading to the exploration of different options to guarantee peace on the unceded territories.
Until next time,
Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG
 “Timeline of Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests and the dispute that sparked them”, CBC News (17 February 2020), online: <globalnews.ca/news/6560125/timeline-wetsuweten-pipeline-protests/>.  Ibid.  Dan Taekema, “Demonstrators paint message of solidarity with Wet’suwet’en chiefs during Hamilton protest”, CBC News (21 November 2021), online: <www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/wet-suwet-en-solidarity-protest-1.6257367>.  Rhea Rollmann, “Protestors? Or land protectors?” (28 October 2016), online: The Independent <theindependent.ca/to-each-their-own/protesters-or-land-protectors/>.  Ibid.  Brett Forester, “RCMP has spent nearly $50M on policing pipeline, logging standoffs in B.C.”, CBC News (online: <www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/rcmp-cirg-spending-resource-extraction-1.6705076>.  Brett Forester, “RCMP won’t agree to respect Gitxsan chiefs’ ban on ‘militarized’ response group”, CBC News (16 March 2023), online: <www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/gitxsan-cirg-ban-injunction-1.6781287>.  Ibid.  Ibid.  Brett Forester, “Watchdog ‘exploring options’ to address systemic issues raised about RCMP unit in B.C.”, CBC News (23 January 2023), online: <cbc.ca/news/indigenous/crcc-cirg-complaints-rcmp-1.6719723>.