One month after the high-profile arrests of dozens people on Wet’suwet’en territory, a group identifying themselves as land defenders returned Sunday to reoccupy a protest camp, blocking access to a Coastal GasLink pipeline drill site in northern British Columbia.
“The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ eviction notice to Coastal GasLink still stands,” Jennifer Wickham, media co-ordinator for the Gidimt’en Checkpoint told CBC News.
She said Wet’suwet’en people and their supporters “are doing what they can in order to ensure that no pipelines cross traditional territory.”
Wickham wouldn’t say how many people had returned to the remote Coyote Camp.
The Gidimt’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation re-issued notice to Coastal GasLink on Nov. 14 that it would be enforcing the eviction of pipeline workers from its territories. The notice provided an eight-hour window for pipeline workers to move out of the territory before the access road near Houston was blocked.
On Nov. 18 and 19, RCMP arrested about 30 Wet-suwet’en members and supporters — along with two photojournalists — in the same remote part of northern B.C., about 1,000 kilometres north of Vancouver. They said the arrests were made because protesters had left more than 500 people stranded at a work camp, where supplies were running out.
In an written statement Monday, Coastal GasLink said “10 to 12 camouflaged and masked opponents took over the Marten Forest Service Road and Morice River drill site.”
The statement said that security officials “left the site for fear of their safety.”
With bitterly cold temperatures dropping to –20 C and below, Wickham said many people were wearing face coverings.
A written statement released Monday by the RCMP North District’s Cpl. Madonna Saunderson said police are investigating reports that a group of protesters “allegedly threatened Coastal GasLink security officials, damaged trucks and fired flares and bear bangers at security officials.”
Wickham was not in the camp at the time but said she questions the RCMP statement.
“We have heard false testimony from the RCMP before about us.”
Last month’s arrests at the camp by heavily armed RCMP officers marked the third police operation in as many years at barricades aimed at stopping construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which would carry natural gas to a $40 billion export terminal on the coast.
Video footage provided to the media last month by filmmaker Michael Toledano showed RCMP tactical officers breaking down a door with an axe and chainsaw to arrest pipeline opponents at Coyote Camp. Toledano was working on a documentary commissioned by CBC’s The Passionate Eye at the time of his arrest.
WATCH | RCMP move in to arrest people at a protest camp on Wet’suwet’en territory:
Wickham said the people who re-occupied the area Sunday are not the same ones who were arrested in November. As a condition of their release, most were required to sign an undertaking to stay away from the area, except for several Wet’suwet’en women, who are allowed into the area for cultural reasons.
Coastal GasLink said on Sunday the situation is an “escalation in unlawful and dangerous activities” by opponents who are putting “people, property, and the environment at risk.”
The company’s 670-kilometre pipeline is 60 per cent complete.
Coastal GasLink has signed deals with 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route, including from Wet’suwet’en territory, but has not won approval of the majority of hereditary chiefs.
The hereditary chiefs assert authority over 22,000 square kilometres of the nation’s traditional territory, an area recognized as unceded by the Supreme Court of Canada in a 1997 decision.
Wickham said people in Coyote Camp are anticipating more arrests and police action “against unarmed Indigenous people.”