by Derrick Broze
Leaders of the Unist’ot’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in British Columbia, Canada have signed a declaration stating that they alone will govern their land and will not allow the construction of proposed pipelines, which would cross the Skeena, Bulkley, and Babine Rivers.
On Aug. 15, the Unist’ot’en Declaration was unanimously signed by five Unist’ot’en chiefs. The declaration states: “We denounce any attempt by the federal government, provincial government or RCMP to interfere in the rights of the Unist’ot’en to occupy, manage or maintain their lands.”
The Unist’ot’en are currently occupying a camp at Wedzin Kwah (Morice River). The camp has been maintained since 2009, effectively blocking seven pipelines — including the Enbridge Pipeline and Pacific Trails Pipeline projects, which are owned by Chevron. The pipelines would build on lands important to the Unist’ot’en, including Talbits Kwah.
Now, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are preparing to launch a mass arrest operation against the Unist’ot’en under the recently passed Bill C-51. The “anti-terror” bill has been criticized for granting the Canadian government additional powers to criminalize protests and free speech.
“The RCMP are preparing to carry out a mass arrest operation against the indigenous Unist’ot’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in northwestern BC under [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper government’s Bill C-51 labelling as terrorists First Nations activists exercising their Aboriginal Title and Rights to protect their lands from oil and gas development, according to a joint statement by the groups [sic] supporters.”
The report says that the RCMP have been making visits to the Unist’ot’en camp, stoking fears that a mass arrest is coming. Over fifty organizations and individuals recently issued a letter in support of the Unist’ot’en. The letter states: “We support the inherent and constitutional rights of the Unist’ot’en to govern and protect their traditional territories in accordance with their laws. We assert the necessity of the work that is being done through the building of the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre, and caution against any intrusions that disrupt or violate the healing of the people and the land. We expect any and all actions taken by the federal and provincial government, industry and policing agencies to be consistent with the Unist’ot’en Declaration and the jurisdiction of the Unist’ot’en Clan.”
If the RCMP is preparing to make mass arrests using C-51 as justification for violating indigenous rights, it will create a volatile situation between the First Nations and the government. The Unist’ot’en previously wrote that C-51 turned Canada’s spy agency, CSIS, into “a secret police force.”
The Unist’ot’en state that C-51 “would grant CSIS the ability to ‘disrupt’ activities that threaten national security,” and also “gives CSIS sweeping powers to silence anyone suspected of advocating terrorist activity, whether in public or private, by seizing anything it considers ‘terrorist propaganda’ from websites to pamphlets to video taken at a protest.”
Freda Huson, Spokesperson of the Unist’ot’en People, explains their goal: “We are healers and teachers who uphold our responsibilities with the hopes, guidance, and blessings of our Warrior ancestors. We are challenging a terrorist state bent on forcing their projects through our lands with lies and deceit.”
Despite the growing surveillance and police state in Canada, the First Nations people are not backing down. They remain committed to protecting their land and sending a message to the State: they will not stand by and watch their lands be sold to corporations.
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