British Columbia’s public safety minister is condemning a blockade set up along a forestry road used construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline, after the Gidimt’en clan announced over the weekend that they would enforce a nearly two-year-old eviction order and bar workers from their territory.
Members of the Gidimt’en Clan ordered all Coastal GasLink employees to leave the Wet’suwet’en territory in the interior of British Columbia on Sunday in a move the company said contradicts a court order, The Canadian Press reports.
Starting at 5 AM Sunday, the clan, one of five in the broader Wet’suwet’en Nation, told workers they had eight hours to “peacefully evacuate” the area before the main road into the Lhudis Bin territory was closed at 1 PM.
The notice came 50 days after the establishment of Coyote Camp, which halted efforts by Coastal GasLink to build an essential part of the 670-kilometre pipeline that would transport fracked natural gas from Dawson Creek in northeastern B.C. to Kitimat in the province’s North Coast region.
“Yesterday, we took our land back,” Gidimt’en Checkpoint tweeted early Tuesday. “With our Haudenosaunee allies, we enforced our ancient trespass laws and have permanently closed access to our territory. The Morice Forest Service Road has been destroyed and access to Coastal Gaslink is no longer possible.”
CBC says the clan set up the camp September 25 on a CGL work site south of Houston, “halting plans to drill under the Wedzin Kwa (Morice River).” Gidimt’en Checkpoint spokesperson Sleydo’ (Molly Wickham) called the river “the major concern”, adding that enforcement of the eviction notice is “the next step” to protect the Wet’suwet’en sacred headwaters, salmon spawning river, and source of clean drinking water.
“Since the camp was set up, two people have been arrested on Gidimt’en territory for breach of a court injunction that prevents people from blocking access to CGL workers,” CBC writes. “And on October 27, hereditary Chief Dsta’hyl was arrested on neighbouring Likhts’amisyu Clan territory on charges of mischief and theft for actions taken against CGL equipment. In a video posted to a public social media page, Dsta’hyl can be seen removing pieces of heavy machinery.”
Speaking on behalf of the Likths’amisyu head chiefs, Wing Chief Hagwilowh (Antoinette Austin) said Dsta’hyl has been assigned the task of “upholding Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en trespass laws, and these laws were in place long before contact with colonizers.” She added that “seizing assets is an affirmative option” to stop CGL work on the territory.
On Tuesday B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth issued a statement calling for de-escalation of the “confrontation” and peaceful removal of the blockade, CP writes. He said the enforcement action puts emergency access at risk for more than 500 workers, and threatens “good faith commitments made between the Office of the Wet’suwet’en and the Province of B.C. to develop a new relationship based on respect.”
That memorandum of understanding had eased tensions, but Sunday’s statement from the Gidimt’en clan said the eviction notice is now being enforced again.
Farnsworth said the 670-kilometre pipeline project is nearly halfway complete and has all the provincial permits necessary for the work currently under way, as well as agreements with all 20 elected chiefs and councils for First Nations along the route.
But Sleydo’ said Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have “never ceded, surrendered, or lost title to the territory” and that Coastal GasLink employees have been breaching both Indigenous law and an eviction notice that was issued nearly two years ago.
“They have been violating this law for too long,” she said.
In its own release, Coastal GasLink responded that a B.C. Supreme Court injunction issued January 7, 2020 allows the company to have “continued safe access” to the area. “This is in the same region where the group has illegally blockaded a Coastal GasLink work site, in defiance of the B.C. Supreme Court injunction, since September 25,” the company said.
On Monday, CGL said it’s concerned for the safety of its workers “due to three new illegal blockades on the Morice River public forest service road blocking all exits and access to two lodges housing more than 500 of our workers, including Wet’suwet’en members.”