Members of a northern B.C. First Nation say police intervention is imminent at checkpoints they’ve set up blocking access to a liquefied natural gas pipeline project.
Jennifer Wickham, a member of the Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, said RCMP officers have gathered in Smithers and Houston, the closest towns to the checkpoints, which are on the Morice River and West Morice River forest service roads.
“It’s a pretty spiritual time for the folks that are up there right now, and they’re sort of bracing themselves for what could come,” Wickham said from Smithers on Sunday.
The project to which the checkpoints are blocking access is TransCanada’s $4.7-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline, a 670-kilometre line that is meant to deliver liquefied natural gas from Dawson Creek to a planned LNG Canada facility near Kitimat.
TransCanada has benefit agreements with all 20 elected First Nation bands along the route, however, members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, which is made up of five clans that have numerous houses, have long protested construction of pipelines through the nation’s claimed traditional territory.
“We’ve never signed a treaty, we’ve never ceded or surrendered our land in any way to Canada,” Wickham said. “Canada is choosing the pipeline over reconciliation with the Wet’suwet’en.”
Wickham said a pipeline would jeopardize the health of the Morice River and block members of the First Nation from their territory.
“It would affect every aspect of our lives,” said Wickham.
“This is a remote part of the country and people still sustain themselves traditionally here. People still have that relationship to the land, we still have our stories of our ancestors. If a pipeline goes through, it will devastate those territories and we won’t be able to access them.”
To prevent pipeline construction, the Unist’ot’en — a house group of the Gilseyhu clan — set up a camp, including several buildings, in the path of the pipeline about a decade ago, and a checkpoint on the West Morice River Forest Service Road. In December, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that the occupants of the camp had to allow TransCanada access to the Morice River Bridge and the construction site, which is about a kilometre away from the camp.
Three days later, a second camp and checkpoint were set up at kilometre 44 of the Morice River Forest Service Road, on Gidimte’en land.
“The chiefs made the decision to control access to Gidimte’en territory because all of the house chiefs have been opposed to pipelines all along, but it’s been the Unist’ot’en that’s been holding it down,” said Wickham.
The court ruling was updated on Friday to include the Gidimte’en checkpoint.
A spokesperson for TransCanada could not be reached for comment.
In a statement last month, the company said it had hoped to “find a peaceful resolution to this situation,” but upon finding another blockade it needed to “take time to evaluate the appropriate steps necessary to ensure access is achieved in a safe manner for all those involved.”
A spokesperson for the B.C. RCMP’s E Division could not be reached for comment, but a statement posted on the force’s website on Sunday said that the RCMP’s division liaison team and Indigenous policing section have maintained a dialogue with the residents of the Unist’ot’en camp over the past several months and discussed the possibility of an injunction.
“The primary concerns of the police are public safety, police officer safety and preservation of the right to peaceful, lawful and safe protest, within the terms set by the Supreme Court in the injunction,” the statement reads.
The RCMP said in planning for enforcement, they are taking the remote location of the Morice River Bridge into consideration and will ensure that there are enough officers in the area “to keep the peace and ensure everyone’s safety.”
“We will continue to monitor the situation and work with all stakeholders to provide assistance as necessary in maintaining peace and keeping everyone safe,” the statement says.
There is no indication of when enforcement will take place or how many officers will be involved.
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