Updated: Agreement reached between RCMP and Wet’suwet’en First Nation protesters after arrests in B.C.

witsewen protestDespite the high praise for British Columbia’s new Clean B.C. strategy released  on December 5,  B.C. has a problem – supporting the $40 billion LNG Canada facility makes it almost impossible for the province to reach its GHG reduction targets. (Marc Lee his most recent critique in “BC’s shiny new climate plan: A look under the hood”.)  And on January 7, the headlines began screaming about another problem related to LNG Canada, as the RCMP began to enforce an injunction granted by B.C.’s Supreme Court, arresting fourteen members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

The Wet’suwet’en  built a fortified barrier on a remote forest service road near Houston, B.C., about 300 kilometres west of Prince George, to prevent construction workers from TC Energy (formerly TransCanada Corp.) and their pipeline subsidiary Coastal GasLink. The company maintains that they have signed agreements with all First Nations along the pipeline route, but those agreements have been made with elected chiefs and councils of the five Wet’suwet’en bands. The hereditary chiefs maintain that the agreements do not apply to traditional lands.  The Vancouver Sun provides good local coverage atFourteen people arrested after RCMP break down anti-pipeline checkpoint“;   The Tyee explains the background and issues in “Nine Things You Need to Know about the Unist’ot’en Blockade” ; The Energy Mix  writes “Negotiations Seek ‘Peaceful Solution’ At Unist’ot’en After RCMP Arrest 14 Blocking Coastal Gaslink Pipeline” (Jan. 9) .

First Nations viewpoint appears in a series of posts at APTN News, including: “An act of war’: Gidimt’en clan prepares for police raid on Wet’suwet’en Territory” (Jan. 5);  “Researchers say RCMP action against Wet’suwet’en would place corporate interests over Indigenous rights” (Jan. 6) ; and “RCMP set up ‘exclusion zones’ for public and media as raid on B.C. camps start (Jan. 7) . According to those reports, “The Gidmit’en Clan, whose members are at the second check point, have called any RCMP raid an “act of war.”

haisla-nation logoNot all First Nations oppose the LNG Canada project.  In a summary of a Canada 2020 conference in Ottawa on December 13 , First Nations speakers  included Larry Villeneueve, Aboriginal Liaison with Local 92 of LiUNA, (involved in four training sites in western Canada for a skilled Indigenous workforce); Phil Fontaine, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, now Co-Chair of Indigenous Affairs Committee at LiUNA; and Crystal Smith, Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation.  In An open letter to opponents and critics of LNG development   on the Haisla Nation website, Crystal Smith writes: “We urge you to think strongly about how your opposition to LNG developments is causing harm to our people and our wellbeing. Opposition does nothing towards empowering our Nation, but rather dismisses our Rights and Title and works towards separating our people from real benefits.” As this issue has heated up, on January 8 she posted “Investing in ourselves is not selling out” .

Rallies in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en resistance have been coordinated through a Facebook campaign, International Solidarity with Wet’suwet’en , and reports indicate turnout across Canada, including Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Halifax, Montreal, New Brunswick, Whitehorse, and Calgary.  The APTNews  (Jan. 9) includes photos and video;  Regional CBC outlets have also covered the story:  “Protesters across Canada support Wet’suwet’en anti-pipeline camps  (Jan. 8);  “Protesters, counter protesters gather in downtown Calgary after B.C. pipeline arrests” ; “Protests in Regina, Saskatoon show solidarity with B.C. First Nation fighting pipelines”  (Jan. 8).  The National Observer reports that the Prime Minister was forced by protesters to change the time and venue of his address to First Nations leaders in Ottawa on January 8th. Prime Minister Trudeau is visiting Kamloops on January 9 but has declined to visit the protest camp.

UPDATES: On January 9, the National Observer reported on a press conference with B.C. Premier Horgan, at which he asserted that “his government believed it had met its obligations to consult with Indigenous nations in approving TransCanada’s Coastal Gaslink project by receiving the “free, prior, and informed” consent that is referenced in United Nations declarations on indigenous rights.”  He sees sees “no quick fix” to the issue and did not set out any path forward.

An “uneasy peace” was reached between the RCMP and the Wet’suwet’en protesters on January 9, allowing workers access to the  Coastal GasLink pipeline construction site in order to avoid a second RCMP raid on the protest camp. According to  “‘Peaceful Resolution’ to Unist’ot’en Blockade Allows Access, Not Construction, Chiefs Say” in The Energy Mix (Jan. 11)  and a related CBC report, “it’s a temporary solution to de-escalate things while everyone figures out their next moves.”

What comes next? Construction of the Coastal Gas Link pipeline is certainly not settled, not only because of the issue of  Wet’suwet’en permission to build on heriditary lands  (that issue explained here ).  There is also dispute over whether or not the pipeline falls under provincial or federal jurisdiction – an issue to be addressed by the National Energy Board in April. Read Andrew Nikoforuk in “Is Coastal GasLink an Illegal Pipeline?” in The Tyee (Jan. 11) or  “Coastal GasLink pipeline permitted through illegal process, lawsuit contends” in The Narwhal .

An analysis in The Energy Mix, “Pipeline Investment ‘Goes Palliative’ in Wake of Unist’ot’en Blockade”  (Jan. 13) compiles responses to the blockade from several media outlets, and sketches out two themes. The first, Canada has provided yet another example of how unattractive and uncertain it is to energy investors; the second: First Nations concerns are represented by  both hereditary and elected leaders. “As long as they [the government]  are willing to resort to force instead of diplomacy, we haven’t even begun to engage in meaningful reconciliation.”