Photo of Stuffed animals laid out to honour the lives of Indigenous children lost to genocidal residential schools.
Stuffed animals laid out to honour the lives of Indigenous children lost to genocidal residential schools. Credit: Sonya Romanovska / Unsplash Credit: Sonya Romanovska / Unsplash

On Monday, land and water protectors will appear before Justice Church in the Superior Court of British Columbia. They were arrested while peacefully protecting Wet’suwet’en traditional lands and waters from threats to the natural habitat and biodiversity.

Approximately 30 arrests took place on Nov. 18 and 19, 2021. Sleydo’ (Molly Wickham), the matriarch of Cas Yikh House located on Gidimt’en territory, stated before her arrest:

“The Wet’suwet’en people, under the governance of their hereditary Chiefs, are standing in the way of the largest fracking project in Canadian history. Our medicines, our berries, our food, the animals, our water, our culture, our homes are all here since time immemorial. We will never abandon our children to live in a world with no clean water. We uphold our ancestral responsibilities. There will be no pipelines on Wet’suwet’en territory.” 

Members of Gidimt’en clan, one of five clans in the Wet’suwet’en Nation, and their allies formed the blockade. Sleydo’ went on to say that the court-ordered injunction has no authority on their land. 

Miranda Black, generationally displaced from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory; Layla Black, from the Haudenosaunee Nation of Six Nations, and Sabina Dennis, Natoht’en,tl’azten clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, were arrested during those violent attacks carried out by militarized Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). They will be in court  to uphold their right to protect hereditary land and water rights. 

The conflict stems from Coastal GasLink’s (CGL) multibillion-dollar 670- kilometer-long natural gas pipeline project. If completed, the pipeline will deliver natural gas from the Dawson Creek area in northwestern B.C. to the Liquid Natural Gas Canada (LNG) facility in Kitimat, B.C. Alberta-based TC Energy is behind the pipeline that will pass through unceded Wet’suwet’en lands posing a threat to sensitive environmental areas. 

For eleven years hereditary chiefs have been fighting to save the land and water threatened by several pipeline projects.

In 2019, an injunction, written and supported by Justice Church, barred protestors from blocking access to the road used by pipeline workers. 

Then, in 2020, a Memorandum of Understanding between Canada, British Columbia and the Wet’suwet’en Nation was signed and seen by all as a way of easing tensions. Unfortunately, since the onset of COVID, talks have stalled and the situation has escalated.  

The arrests were reportedly in response to land and water defenders trapping 500 workers in man camps. These reports were false.

While land defenders did set up a lodging site on a drill pad  in an effort to  take back their unceded land, CGL was given a 24 hour call out to remove all workers. Access to food and water was never an issue for workers remaining on site.

Despite the province declaring a state of emergency due to flooding and a landslide, Emergency Response Team RCMP as well as regular RCMP officers were deployed to  enforce the injunction. 

Wet’suwet’en land defenders and their Haudenosaunee, Two-Spirit and non-Indigenous allies, experienced military-like attacks on their bodies, their buildings and their land from RCMP officers in military garb armed with assault rifles and accompanied by attack dogs. Similar raids were carried out in 2019 and 2020.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose the pipeline, while band council approved the project. Hereditary Chiefs and matriarchs are against the project that was approved by the band council, a subsection of the Canadian Government imposed by the Indian Act.

The territory where the arrests occurred includes Wedzi kwa, also known as the Morice River. Drilling is set to take place under the headwaters, where sensitive salmon spawning grounds are located. Environmental assessments approved by CGL and Canada state that the project  will cause irreversible environmental damage to the waters and lands.

According to Miranda Black, “Despite United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) being ratified in 2016 and instituted into Bill C-15 in June 2021, the criminalization of Indigenous Peoples protecting their lands and waters showcases that Canada is not ready to see Indigenous Nations, especially the Wet’suwet’en, as a sovereign nation.” 

Canada as a nation has gone against its own law in this case because the memorandum has been acknowledged in court and yet Canada moved against that trilateral agreement. Now, First Nations bodies are not only on the line but those who survive are being criminalized. 

The RCMP are not on Wet’suwet‘en territory to serve and protect. Instead, the RCMP is there to dominate, instill fear, use brutal and lethal force. 

Layla Black, documentary filmmaker and artist, recently recounted how RCMP officers violently pulled her brother, Juno-award winning musician , Logan Staats from a group hug during the peaceful protest. Staats was then jumped by 20 RCMP officers, slammed onto the ground and held down while he told them he couldn’t breathe.

Eventually, Staats, Layla and Miranda Black, and Sabina Dennis were arrested. Layla Black says, “These are the stories of the land now. We have a voice to share these emotional moments of facing fear and corporate greed. This is an ongoing fight.”

Miranda Black was acting as a legal observer filming the peaceful protest. She recounts over 70 militarized RCMP with assault rifles  and a canine unit.  While being removed from the territory, a line-up of auxiliary including snow mobiles and RCMP vehicles trailed twenty kilometres down the road from the site where she was arrested.     

Miranda Black states, “Canada was established only 155 years ago. Colonists have imposed laws and authorities over land and water for longer than that. Although Canada has adopted UNDRIP, Indigenous Peoples continue to be seen as criminals rather than as sovereign nations. Militarized RCMP, attack dogs and force should be illegal, but since these projects are supported by the Crown somehow these brutal attacks have been termed ‘legal.’”

Jocey Alec was arrested in her home along with her partner. The couple received information early on the morning of Nov. 19 that their cabin located on Wet’suwet’en Territory was about to be invaded by over 40 RCMP vehicles including snipers and canine units. Helicopters also dropped RCMP paramilitary troops nearby. Jocey was occupying a cabin her father built for her and her partner on traditional Wet’suwet’en territory. 

The RCMP surrounded her cabin and informed Alec that she was not following Canadian law and could be arrested. They then broke into her home without a warrant and arrested Alec and her partner. They also burnt her home to the ground.

Arrested First Nation land defenders were stripped down to their long johns. Some, like Dennis, were released after 30 hours while others were held for five days. Those appearing before Justice Church were led into court handcuffed and shackled in their long johns.

According to Dennis, “The militarized, industrial police force CIRG [Community Industry-Response Group – an arm of the RCMP] must be scrutinized by Canadians—look what they have in store for future uprisings that are coming due to government inaction to climate catastrophe. It’s as though they use Indigenous land defenders in remote areas as their training grounds. We were peaceful and yet the helicopters, attack dogs, special forces with assault rifles were deployed. The display of force included media suppression, targeted pain compliance, fear tactics and an unwillingness to negotiate. No Bill C-51 can convince the public that Indigenous land defenders are ‘Terrorists.’”

The Harper government added pipelines to Canada’s critical infrastructure list in Bill C-51. That conservative government also included highways as critical infrastructure in that same bill.

On Monday, Justice Church will set the trial date for charges stemming from breaching the injunction. That date is significant, because Feb. 14 is the Day of the National Inquiry of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA.  

Anyone involved in intimate partner abuse knows that abusers choose significant and important dates to traumatize women. Whether it’s a birthday, Thanksgiving, the Day for Truth and Reconciliation, or the day honouring Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA, abusers know that every year when this anniversary comes around their victims will not be able to commemorate that day without remembering the pain and trauma inflicted on them.

Miranda Black knows, “Canada has pushed Feb. 14 to be, ‘The National Day of Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.’ Yet, in reality that’s the day that the B.C. Supreme Court wants to charge Indigenous women for just being on their own territory.”

These women are sending out a call for Solidarity of Action on Feb. 14. Allies and accomplices, please answer the call.

Editors note, February 11, 2022: Originally, Sleydo’ (Molly Wickham), appeared in this article as a “spokesperson” for the Gidimt’en territory, in reality, she is the matriarch of Cas Yikh House located on Glidmt’en territory. As well, originally the article claimed Jocey Alec was pregnant at the time of her experience with the RCMP – that is not true. The article has now been updated to accommodate both of these edits.

Doreen Nicoll

Doreen Nicoll is weary of the perpetual misinformation and skewed facts that continue to concentrate wealth, power and decision making in the hands of a few to the detriment of the many. As a freelance...