• reconciliactionyeg

Solidarity with Wet'suwet'en

Updated: Nov 23, 2021

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,


RCMP are blocking food and medical supplies from Wet’suwet’en homes and are openly violating the human rights of the Wet’suwet’en people.[1] What you’ll see in current headlines though is how Wet’suwet’en land defenders are being arrested by RCMP for violating a civil court injunction.[2] To date, nearly 30 people have been arrested on Wet’suwet’en territory for blockading Coastal GasLink (CGL) from accessing the Wet’suwet’en people’s unceded and sacred lands for the purpose of building a multi-billion dollar pipeline.[3] Supporters across Turtle Island have come out in droves to show their solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people.[4] Although blockades have caused various disruptions, supporters are gaining the attention of the media and people across the nation.[5] This feels a little like Groundhog Day with a repeat of the 2020 blockades.[6]


While BC is in the middle of one of Canada’s largest natural disasters, during a global pandemic nonetheless, RCMP are being sent to the unceded territory of the Wet’suwet’en to enforce a court injunction. The purpose of the court injunction (according to CGL) is to allow CGL access to Wet’suwet’en territory to build a pipeline from Dawson Creek, BC to Kitimat, BC.[7] CGL and the Wet’suwet’en people disagree on the path the multi-billion dollar pipeline should take.[8] The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have been clear from the beginning that no pipelines can be built through their traditional territory without their consent.[9] However, with billions of dollars on the line for CGL, the Wet’suwet’en peoples' assertion that their traditional territory is not the proper place for the pipeline, because their lands are protected by Aboriginal Title; a recognized Constitutional right,[10] has been ignored.


This is not the first time the courts have considered the question of what Aboriginal Title entails. In previous decisions, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) said that Aboriginal Title provides a right to occupy and possess the land, but the Crown still retains underlying title.[11] The SCC has set out the legal tests to establish Aboriginal Title and how the Crown may infringe upon that title.[12] In Delgamuukw, the SCC found that the Wet’suwet’en have grounds to claim Aboriginal Title over their traditional territories, but sent the parties back to trial to establish that title in law. Unfortunately, the Wet’suwet’en people are left in a precarious position where they have a strong claim to Aboriginal Title, but it is not yet recognized in law.[13] The Crown is taking advantage of the Wet’suwet’en’s weak position and is enforcing an injunction that overrides any claim to Aboriginal Title and therefore forces them to leave their traditional territory.


Meanwhile, the RCMP continue to act on an unjustified colonial court injunction that infringes on the Wet’suwet’en peoples’ sacred connection to their land, which constitutes a serious violation of their section 35 Aboriginal rights and Wet’suwet’en law.[14] During the most recent RCMP raid, colonial legal systems justified violent means to suppress land defenders. No one was immune to arrest, including two Indigenous women: Gidimet’en Checkpoint spokesperson Sleydo’ and Chief Dini ze’ Woo’s daughter Jocelyn Alec.[15] It wasn’t enough that police arrested these women over an unjust court injunction, but now their Indigeneity is being called into question by CGL: a colonial private company.


CGL is demanding that Sleydo’ and Jocelyn Alec prove their connection to Wet’suwet’en Territory before allowing them to return to their homes.[16] Colonial companies should never have the power to demand proof of any Indigenous person’s Indigeneity! It exacerbates the underlying cause of the ongoing challenge of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG2S) namely racial and gendered violence. As Jen Wickham, media coordinator of Gidimt’en checkpoint stated:

“Coastal GasLink’s proposed conditions of release are punitive, unreasonable and in targeting Sleydo’ and Jocelyn, completely racist and sexist. Allowing a private corporation to determine two Indigenous womens’ identities and allowing this corporation to deny our inherent rights to be Wet’suwet’en on our territory is a very dangerous precedent.”[17]


As CGL continues to move forward with their pipeline, supporters across Turtle Island have rallied to draw attention to the issues at play. In Ontario there was a rally in support that caused the shut down of the LaSalle Causeway and in some parts of Canada, supporters have blockaded railways.[18] Last night in Edmonton, Alberta, a dear friend and fellow law student, Anita Cardinal, attended a rally in support of the Wet’suwet’en people. According to Cardinal, “colonialism and capitalism have wreaked havoc on our environment long enough”. It was with this in mind that Cardinal felt that “standing in solidarity is vital in bringing awareness of what’s happening in BC. This invasion by RCMP on unceded sovereign territory of the Wet’suwet’en, resulting in destruction and violence must not be allowed to continue.”


The government should be reconciling land claims with First Nations, like the Wet’suwet’en instead of taking them to court or sending in the RCMP.[19]


Until next time,

Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG


Photo taken of Anita Cardinal at the November 22, 2021 Rally in support of the Wet'suwet'en.


Resources:

[1] Lee Wilson, “Tensions Building on Wet’suwet’en Territory as Pipeline Conflict in Northern BC Continues” (November 17, 2021), online: APTN News <https://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/tensions-building-on-wetsuweten-territory-as-pipeline-conflict-in-northern-b-c-continues/>.


[2] Omar Mosleh & Jeremy Nuttall, “Photojournalist and filmmaker released after RCMP arrests in Wet’suwet’en Territory Spark Outrage” (November 22, 2021) online: Toronto Star <https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/11/22/photojournalist-and-filmmaker-released-after-rcmp-arrests-in-wetsuweten-territory-spark-outrage.html>.


[3] Kate Partridge, “Wet'suwet'en camp leader, journalists arrested as RCMP enforce pipeline injunction in northern B.C.” (November 20, 2021) online: CBC News <https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/15-arrests-journalists-wetsuweten-cgl-1.6256696>.


[4] Irelyne Lavery, “Toronto demonstration held in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders in B.C.” (November 21, 2021) online: Toronto Star <https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2021/11/21/toronto-demonstration-held-in-solidarity-with-wetsuweten-land-defenders-in-bc.html


[5] Bobby Hristova, “Highway 6 bypass in Caledonia, Ont., blocked in solidarity with B.C. pipeline protest” (November 19, 2021) online: CBC News <https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/highway-6-indigenous-blockade-1.6255054>.


[6] Catharine Tunney, “Arrests, travel disruptions as Wet'suwet'en solidarity protests spread across Canada” (February 25, 2020) online: CBC News <https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/blockades-continue-hamilton-bc-1.5474916#:~:text=Arrests%2C%20travel%20disruptions%20as%20Wet%27suwet%27en%20solidarity%20protests%20spread,services%20with%20local%20jurisdiction%20to%20handle%20the%20protests.>.


[7] Supreme Court of British Columbia, “Order Made After Application” (December 17, 2018), online (pdf): Coastal GasLink Injunction Decision <https://www.coastalgaslink.com/siteassets/pdfs/whats-new/2018/2018-12-17-filed-order-interim-injunction/2018-12-17-filed-order-re-interim-injunction.pdf>; Supreme Court of British Columbia, “Order Made After Application” (January 4, 2019), online (pdf): Coastal GasLink Injunction Decision <https://www.coastalgaslink.com/siteassets/pdfs/whats-new/2018/2018-12-17-filed-order-interim-injunction/cgl-2019-01-04-filed-order-re-interim-injunction-revised.pdf>.


[8] Chantelle Bellrichard & Jorge Barrera “What you need to know about the Coastal GasLink pipeline conflict” (February 5, 2020) online: CBC News <https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/wet-suwet-en-coastal-gaslink-pipeline-1.5448363#:~:text=The%20Coastal%20GasLink%20pipeline%20is%20a%20key%20component,of%20the%20Haisla%20Nation%2C%20which%20supports%20the%20project.>.


[9] Ibid.


[10] Nicole Bogart, “What you need to know about the Wet'suwet'en protests, arrests” (February 10, 2020) online: CTV News <https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-wet-suwet-en-protests-arrests-1.4805620#:~:text=But%20Wet%E2%80%99suwet%E2%80%99en%20Nation%20never%20surrendered%20its%20Aboriginal%20title%2C,Manitoba%2C%20explained%20to%20CTVNews.ca%20by%20phone%20from%20Winnipeg.>.


[11] Calder et al v Attorney-General of British Columbia, [1973] SCR 313, 34 DLR (3d) 145 [Calder]; Guerin v The Queen, [1984] 2 SCR 335 at 378, 382, 13 DLR (4th) 321 [Guerin].


[12] Delgamuukw v British Columbia, [1997] 3 SCR 1010, 153 DLR (4th) 193 [Delgamuukw]; R v Sparrow, [1990] 1 SCR 1075 [Sparrow]; See Aboriginal Title - Centre for Constitutional Studies for the test for Aboriginal Title, online: Centre for Constitutional Studies <https://www.constitutionalstudies.ca/2021/09/aboriginal-title/>.


[13] Supra note 10.


[14] Jennifer Wickham, “Arrested Land Defenders Appear in Court Today: Gidimt’en Condemns Unreasonable and Punitive Conditions of Release”, (November 22, 2021) online: Indigenous Environmental Network <https://www.ienearth.org/for-immediate-release-arrested-land-defenders-appear-in-court-today-gidimten-condemns-unreasonable-and-punitive-conditions-of-release/>.


[15] Ibid.


[16] Ibid.


[17] Ibid.


[18] Supra note 5.


[19] Michael Harris, “On big issues like land claims, Canada litigates rather than reconciles with First Nations, or sends in the RCMP”, (November 22, 2021) online: the Hill Times <https://www.hilltimes.com/2021/11/22/on-big-issues-like-land-claims-canada-litigates-rather-than-reconciles-with-first-nations-or-sends-in-the-rcmp/329987>.


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