The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) announced on Wednesday, January 5, that applications are open to join the remote bush Gidimt’en encampments near Houston, British Columbia. The encampments support Wet’suwet’en relatives as they protect their sovereign homelands from another RCMP raid.
Since 2018 the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have opposed the 670-kilometer (417-mile) Coastal GasLink pipeline which seeks to transport liquefied natural gas across 22,000 sq km of Wet’suwet’en tribal land; from northeast British Columbia to a terminal on the coast near the town of Kitimat. Land defenders have been blocking pipeline construction under the Wedzin Kwa/Morice River since September 2021.
The Coastal GasLink pipeline is a project of TC Energy, formerly TransCanada, owner of the KXL pipelines.
It’s always been about Wedzin Kwa. This is who we are.
Amanda Follett Hosgood reported from Wet’suwet’en territory in October for The Tyee, an independent, online news magazine from B.C.
She wrote, “Known to the Wet’suwet’en as Wedzin Kwa, the Morice River becomes the Bulkley, eventually flowing into the Skeena River at Hazelton. It’s a major artery through the territory and source of sustenance and tradition for the nation, as well as the territorial boundary between the Gidimt’en Clan’s Cas Yikh house…”
Hosgood reported that for Molly Wickham, “…a Cas Yikh house member whose Wet’suwet’en name is Sleydo’, it was never a question of whether they would fight to protect Wedzin Kwa. Only a question of when.”
“It’s always been about Wedzin Kwa,” said Wickham. “Everything that’s happened up until now has been about Wedzin Kwa…My biggest fear is that we’re never going to be able to drink from Wedzin Kwa again… and that it will impact spawning salmon.”
“That’s our main river, Wedzin Kwa. That’s where our salmon are,” Hereditary Chief Na’Moks/John Ridsdale said about the river’s significance as a food source and lifeblood for the nation. “We’re the Wet’suwet’en. This is who we are — the land, the air and the water.”
“Nothing like that’s ever happened along that river system, ever,” Chief Na’Moks says about TC Energy’s plans to drill under the Wedzin Kwa. He says something as simple as a bridge constructed over a river can be enough to keep salmon from migrating upstream.
Call for volunteers
IEN is calling for volunteers to support the Wet’suwet’en Gidimt’en and the five clans of the Wet’suwet’en in their struggle, “From disrupting business as usual to divesting from banks funding the theft of Indigenous lands, there are steps we can all take to stand with our relatives. These barbarous acts of violent aggression must cease and the inherent right to self-determination must be upheld.”
Ongoing support is needed to ensure the smooth operation of the camps, says the IEN call for volunteers. It is a physically, emotionally and mentally demanding environment that requires supporters to be able to hold themselves in a good way, and be accountable to Indigenous leadership.
There are two remote encampments down logging roads. There is no cell service and no transportation. Volunteers are asked to make sure their vehicles are in good repair, have seasonally appropriate tires and are able to be on logging roads.
They are further asked to come prepared with appropriate masks; to pre-arrange isolation if they have not been vaccinated and/or isolated prior to arrival; and to follow Canadian government travel restrictions.
Traditional governance versus colonial authority
The Wet’suwet’en encampment website explains that, “the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs represent a governance system that predates colonization and the Indian Act which was created in an attempt to outlaw Indigenous peoples from their lands. The Wet’suwet’en have continued to exercise their unbroken, unextinguished, and unceded right to govern and occupy their lands by continuing and empowering the clan-based governance system to this day.
“Under Wet’suwet’en law, clans have a responsibility and right to control access to their territories. The validity of the Wet’suwet’en house and clan system was verified in the Delgamuukw and Red Top Decisions that uphold the authority of the hereditary system on Wet’suwet’en traditional territories.”
First Nations Drum, Canada’s largest First Nations newspaper, reported that the right of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs to hold title over ancestral lands was upheld by the Canadian Supreme Court in the Delgamuukw decision in 1997.
The decision gave the Hereditary Chiefs stewardship of the ancestral lands; while elected tribal chiefs and councils, who derive their authority from the colonial government, hold authority over reserve lands and their infrastructure only so far as outlined in the Indian Act of 1876. The authority of the Hereditary Chiefs pre-dates colonization.
RCMP advances in Gidimt’en territory
Most recently, the RCMP invaded the Coyote Camp in November, deploying snipers, attack dogs and assault weapons to violently remove Indigenous land defenders and jailing journalists.
According to IEN, the violent RCMP invasion of sovereign and unceded Wet’suwet’en territory with dogs and assault rifles is foreign aggression sanctioned by the Canadian and provincial governments on behalf of a gas/oil energy corporation, “…and such barbarous acts of violence inflicted upon Indigenous peoples cannot be defended.”
They go on to say, “These attacks by RCMP are nothing less than Human Rights violations as defined by the United Nations, and acts of extreme detriment to the inherent sovereignty and rights and responsibilities of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs…They are not part of so-called Canada and have not consented to bearing the burden of the world’s dependence on an extractive industry such as oil.”
Visit our website for resources and explanation of the conflict between the Wet’suwet’en and Coastal GasLink: www.westrivereagle.com/articles/call-for-land-protectors-to-wetsuweten.