rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Wet'suwet'en land defenders face risks experienced by environmental human rights defenders around the world

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Image: Unist'ot'en Camp/Facebook

The Indigenous Wet'suwet'en land defenders protecting their territory in northern British Columbia from the construction of the TC Energy Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline are experiencing many of the situations, risks and dynamics that environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) around the world encounter.

Challenging extractivism -- EHRDs are commonly at risk for opposing destructive extractive projects such as mining, hydroelectric dams, logging and agribusiness. The Wet'suwet'en oppose a fracked gas pipeline on their territory.

Megaprojects -- EHRDs have experienced increased rates of violence when they oppose a megaproject that impacts their community. The $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline is a 670-kilometre infrastructure project that would lead to a $40-billion liquefied natural gas plant financed by transnational corporations.

Seeking to stop violence -- EHRDs often express concern about community tensions and the violence that can come with a megaproject. The Wet'suwet'en are concerned by the violence against Indigenous women that comes with the "man camps" that house the workers who would build the fracked gas pipeline on their remote territory.

Free, prior and informed consent -- Indigenous EHRDs struggle to have their right to free, prior and informed consent (under ILO Convention 169 and the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) respected. The Wet'suwe'ten hereditary chiefs have not given their free, prior and informed consent to the fracked gas pipeline.

Harassment -- EHRDs commonly face harassment by police and private security forces. The Unist'ot'en have stated that they have faced targeted and sustained harassment and intimidation tactics by police and private security on a daily basis.

Criminalization -- Indigenous EHRDs are often criminalized for occupying their own territory (commonly framed as "aggravated usurpation" or illegal occupation). While the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized the Wet'suwet'en as the rightful title holders of the territory, a lower court granted TC Energy an injunction to prevent the Wet'suwet'en from blocking pipeline construction work on their territory.

Impunity -- EHRDs are often subject to violence and harassment by state forces. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association has argued that the RCMP decision to restrict movement from the 27-kilometre mark to the 4-kilometre mark on the Morice West Forest Service Road lies outside the scope of the B.C. Supreme Court injunction. And yet the police have maintained this exclusion zone and arrested human rights observers within it.

Gender-specific violence -- EHRDs are often women (WEHRDs). They face the same risks as other defenders, but they are additionally exposed to gender-based violence and gender-specific risks. Unist'ot'en matriarchs Freda Huson (Chief Howihkat), Brenda Michell (Chief Geltiy) and Dr. Karla Taiit were arrested February 10 while holding a ceremony to call on their ancestors and to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

State violence -- EHRDs are unarmed and peaceful but face armed force. The RCMP raid on Wet'suwet'en territory has reportedly involved helicopters, assault rifles, snipers, handguns, sound cannons and police dogs against unarmed land defenders.  

Judicialization -- EHRDs are often arrested and detained in lengthy criminal justice proceedings that divert from their ability to protect their lands and waters. Twenty-eight land defenders and human rights observers have been arrested over the five-day police raid. Some of those arrested were charged with contempt, despite not violating the injunction.

Prolonged struggle for justice -- EHRDs must commonly endure long struggles against ongoing injustices, impunity, incarceration and threats, and rely on international solidarity to sustain their struggle. The Wet'suwet'en remain resolute in their commitment to protect their land, waters, culture and sovereignty.

To read more about these situations, risks and dynamics faced by EHRDs, please see "Enemies of the State? How Governments and Businesses Silence Land and Environmental Defenders" and "Global Analysis 2019."

For more on what is happening to the Wet'suwet'en land defenders, you can follow their social media feed at Unist'ot'en Camp and Gidimt'en Checkpoint.

Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. This article originally appeared on the PBI-Canada website.

Image: Unist'ot'en Camp/Facebook

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.