It’s been just over one year since the RCMP raided camps along the route of the Coastal Gas Link (CGL) LNG pipeline in Northern B.C. Brandishing guns and tactical gear, the RCMP arrested dozens of Indigenous land defenders and supporters who defied an injunction obtained by CGL to not impede the construction right of way.
The raids evoked outrage that saw supporters across Canada erect railway blockades and highway shutdowns. Demonstrators gathered by the thousands in the streets demanding governments, police and industry to uphold Indigenous rights and stop construction of the pipeline.
After weeks of uprising and bickering between political leaders at the highest levels, and, after the RCMP heeded demands from Wet’suwet’en traditional leaders to leave their territory, an emergency meeting was held in Smithers, B.C.
Although that meeting resulted in a Memorandum of Understanding between the provincial, federal and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs clarifying rights to traditional Indigenous lands going forward, it did not deal with the issue at hand. Then, on the heels of this dramatic showdown, the pandemic arrived, which forced the world into isolation and uncertainty.
But the building of the pipeline and other infrastructure deemed critical to the economy of Canada, continued in full force. The RCMP also returned after only three days to the Morice Forest Service Rd. outside of Houston, B.C., to patrol Wet’suwet’en territories, to ensure the safety of the public and the enforcement of the injunction, it says.
The RCMP also continues to harass the traditional people of the land there. Last summer I visited the RCMP command post stationed in the bush near the Morice Forest Service Rd. with Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Gisday’wa of the Gitumden Clan. He asked two officers posted there when they would be leaving. They replied they were readying to leave but it would take several weeks. Gisday’wa commented that it took just one night to move in and they need weeks to move out? Now, it has been another six months and the RCMP command post is still there.
I visited again last week reporting on a series for Al Jazeera English with my colleague, photojournalist Amber Bracken. We spent part of the day at the Uni’stot’en Healing Camp, headed by Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Howihkat, Freda Huson. Uni’stot’en was at the centre of the police raids and is considered a sacred place for people to heal on the land from the traumas of colonialism. It’s a stunningly beautiful place. Blankets of fresh snow nestled beneath tall, sleeping spruce trees. It was peaceful. The bite of the winter cold reminds you how vulnerable you are in its mountain wilderness.
Bracken and I went on our way that afternoon and were soon pulled over by the RCMP, on a remote road, up a mountain, with no cell service. An industry worker in a white truck circled my vehicle and the unmarked police truck and spun off in the distance. It was as if he was corralling us in for the cops.
The police asked for my driver’s license and pried with several questions as to why we were there. One officer told me he pulled me over to make sure I had a valid license. In the middle of nowhere, it made little sense. Bracken asked again why they pulled us over. He didn’t answer and slammed his truck door and took off ahead of us. A few minutes later I noticed a white truck following us, we still had at least a half-hour to get down the mountain. The truck followed us all the way down.
As an Indigenous woman I felt nervous; we were alone; a remote area; men in power who rarely treat our people with respect.
The Wet’suwet’en traditional chiefs told me they want the RCMP off their lands. They have asked them to leave several times. They say they are given the runaround — while their lands and waterways are threatened by a pipeline they don’t want there either.
The legacy of colonial violence against Indigenous Peoples is happening continuously. It’s not back then. It’s not left at contact. It’s here and now. The bulldozing of Indigenous territories without free, prior and informed consent, removal of Indigenous peoples from their lands, imposing colonial laws with RCMP enforcement, the taking of resources, forced impoverishment and countless other effects.
Along with the trampling of Indigenous lands is the taking, raping and killing of Indigenous women and girls. This area is parallel to the Highway of Tears, where dozens of mostly Indigenous females have been murdered or are missing. But the RCMP is not out patrolling the highway as much as it’s patrolling the back-roads for industry.
Violence against Indigenous peoples is happening in plain sight, and society is mostly complacent in 2021. How can meaningful reconciliation unfold with ongoing oppression, violation of rights and violence such as this? Maybe start by ratifying Indigenous rights and implementing the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; not just when it’s convenient to the colonial agenda.
Brandi Morin is an award-winning French/Cree/Iroquois journalist from Treaty 6 in Alberta.