Backed by helicopters, heavy machinery and dogs, Royal Canadian Mounted Police dismantled a gate erected by activists and detained seven people fighting against the 670-km, $6.2 billion Coastal GasLink pipeline, CGL, which would transport natural gas from northeastern British Columbia to an export terminal at Kitimat, also in British Columbia. Its route crosses the unceded territory of the Wet'suwet'en nation. And this is the crux of the problem.
The CGL pipeline has been approved by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, by the provincial government in Victoria and the elected band councils of 20 First Nations along its route, including five in Wet'suwet'en territory. But the project has been opposed steadfastly by Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs. There have been protests, blockades, court injunctions, police roadblocks and arrests.
British Columbia Premier John Horgan announced that the “rule of law” must prevail. He argued that the CGL pipeline “has every right to proceed,” it will be built and “British Columbia is moving on.” Indigenous and human rights groups have expressed concern that Indigenous rights, including the right to free, prior and informed consent to resource development, are being infringed in Wet’suwet’en territory.
Fundamentally, activists say this is not a dispute between Coastal GasLink and the Wet’suwet’en, nor between hereditary chiefs and Indian Act band councils. It goes to the core of the relationship between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples. The court accepted detailed evidence of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary governance system and confirmed that the Wet’suwet’en never surrendered title to their ancestral lands.
By implication the Court is asserting the Wet'suwet'en title to their ancestral lands. The Wet'suwet'en have requested face-to-face talks with Horgan and Trudeau, who so far have refused. But it seems a meeting at this level is the only way out of the impasse and the eventual resumption of the pipeline construction.