The struggle for self-determination of the Wetsu’wet’en people is not a new one. Since the late 1990s, the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan peoples have been waging a legal and political battle for recognition of their territorial rights. In 1997, these two peoples obtained recognition from the colonial legal system that their territory had never been ceded, and that their hereditary system of governance had never been extinguished. Thus, since the late 1990s, the colonial legal system itself has recognized the sovereignty of the Wet’suwet’en people over their territory, as well as the validity of their system of governance which predates European colonization.

In 2008, the Wet’suwet’en decided to withdraw from the treaty process with British Columbia, while asserting their inherent right to their unceded ancestral territory. In 2010, the hereditary chiefs formed the Unist’ot’en camp to protect their territory while establishing governance practices based on their legal system. This allows the community to have a say in all projects being considered on their territory through free and informed consent, as opposed to the sham “consultation” processes offered by the Canadian colonial state. Since 2010, community members have notably built a healing center on the site of the camp, where healing care inspired by ancestral methods was offered to the community.

A second camp, Camp Gidimt’en, was erected in December 2018, and controls access to Gidimt’en clan territory. The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs made the decision to support this move at a feast held on December 16, 2018. At the same time, the Canadian court granted an injunction to the CGL company, allowing the RCMP to clear a route for the company to pass through the Yintah, passing through various Wet’suwet’en roadblocks, and near the healing center established at Camp Unist’ot’en. In January 2019, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police intruded into the unceded territory of the Wet’suwet’en in order to violently arrest 14 people defending their rights to self-determination, and to the free and informed consent of their people. The intrusion and subsequent arrests were carried out in a particularly violent and repressive manner, with documents showing that the RCMP were prepared to use snipers and assault rifles on the Indigenous activists [1].

In October 2019, the hereditary chiefs of the Wetsu’wet’en people asked CGL to immediately cease work on their territory because it was destroying Wetsu’wet’en territory and cultural heritage. Indeed, the company was carrying out work that endangered the conservation of archaeological sites containing traces of the occupation, since time immemorial, of the Wetsu’wet’en in these territories. The hereditary chiefs’ request was also based on the fact that the company did not respect the traditional law of the people, nor the colonial law of the province. Rather than force the company to comply with their own laws, the Canadian courts decided to grant a permanent injunction to CGL, thereby criminalizing all defenders of the Wet’suwet’en territories.

The large mobilization movement we witnessed last year was a direct result of this conflict. In January 2020, the hereditary chiefs sent an eviction notice to the CGL company, evicted all of the company’s workers, set up a new roadblock at KM 39, still in the territory of the Gidim’ten clan, with the various camps set up all along the road leading to the Wetsu’wet’en territories, acting as a roadblock to prevent both CGL and the RCMP from entering the territory. A few days later the RCMP set up their own roadblock to prevent access to camp supporters and community territories.

During this period, activists were harassed daily by RCMP officers, despite the state’s promise not to intervene while discussions were taking place between the hereditary chiefs and the province. Between January 31 and February 10, 2020, over 25 activists were arrested by the RCMP. In response to this violent repression, Wetsu’wet’en activists called on their Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies to take action under the slogan #SHUTDOWNCANADA, to which many Indigenous communities and some non-Indigenous groups responded by erecting barricades on railroad tracks across the country. In particular, the Gitxsan people, neighbors and allies of the Wet’suwet’en, organized a railroad blockade on their territory, as did many Indigenous communities across so-called Canada.

The onset of the pandemic last year quickly took the still vibrant struggle for self-determination of the Wetsu’wet’en people off the public radar. In recent weeks, CGL’s work has resumed in earnest, once again in the vicinity of an archaeological site of great importance to the Wetsu’wet’en people, threatening to destroy evidence of their millennia- long occupation of their territory, and thereby jeopardizing their ability to “prove” to the Canadian colonial state the legitimacy of their land claims. The company’s current work also threatens the Wedzin Kwa, the main river and source of life and sustenance through the Yintah. CGL plans to run its pipeline under the Wedzin Kwa, which originates much further north, and whose water was until recently clean enough to drink directly from the river. In recent weeks, Chief Dsta’hyl, the hereditary chief of the Likhts’amisyu clan, and a Gitxsan ally were arrested by the RCMP while exercising their sovereignty over the clan’s ancestral territory. The RCMP also took the opportunity to vandalize the clan’s camp on their territory.

To this day, the Wet’suwet’en continue to exercise their right to govern and occupy their territory in accordance with their system of governance, which is organized around hereditary chiefs of the various clans that make up the people. By virtue of the Wet’suwet’en’s Indigenous right, clans have the right and responsibility to control access to their territory. The Wet’suwet’en’s current struggle against CGL and the Canadian colonial state is a direct result of this right being put into practice.


Sources :

[1] Exclusive: Canada police prepared to shoot Indigenous activists, documents show, The Guardian, Decembre 2019 indigenous-land-defenders-police-documents


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