In Solidarity with Wet'suwet'en: Canada Must Respect the Land Rights and Cease the Criminalization of Indigenous Peoples

January 10, 2019
Image: Michael Toledano, all rights reserved

Image: Michael Toledano, all rights reserved

In July 2015, while speaking to the Assembly of First Nations, soon-to-be-Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged that if elected, he would usher in a new relationship between the Canadian government and Indigenous Peoples—“one built on respect, rights and a commitment to end the status quo.” But this promise—to end the centuries-long practice of exploitation, systemic oppression, and violence against the First Nations people of Canada—rang empty this week.

On January 7th, members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) permeated blockades erected by Indigenous land defenders on Wet’suwet’en land, arresting 14. According to the RCMP, they were enforcing a court order allowing TransCanada to move forward with a planned US$4.7 billion 670-kilometer (approx. 415 mile) long natural gas pipeline, Coastal GasLink.

But the land being defended is unceded Indigenous land that is under the jurisdiction of a group of Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. The Chiefs’ permission is thus required for the pipeline—which they strongly oppose—to move forward on their land making the injunction a violation of their trespassing laws. Indeed, in direct violation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Monday’s actions saw the RCMP forcibly removing numerous Indigenous people from blockades erected on their land, while simultaneously blocking other Indigenous leaders from entering their own territory. Journalists were also prohibited from the area.

According to a statement from the Unist’ot’en camp, shortly before the raids the RCMP met with the Hereditary Chiefs and gave them an ultimatum—“to allow TransCanada access to un-ceded Wet’suwet’en territory or face police invasion.” The leaders called this an “act of war.” The statement continues: “Canada is now attempting to do what it has always done—criminalize and use violence against indigenous people so that their unceded homelands can be exploited for profit.”

These actions come just months after the Canadian Parliament passed bill C-262, recognizing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which specifically states that “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories.” It also runs counter to the federal government’s supposed commitment to “develop real climate change solutions” with reports that the larger natural gas project that includes the Coastal GasLink pipeline will increase emissions by 8.6 million tons annually by 2030.

The Oakland Institute has extensively documented how Indigenous groups around the world are being criminalized for protecting their land, lives, and livelihoods from exploitative industries and predatory government policies. We stand in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people and call on the Canadian government to respect their land rights, honor the authority and jurisdiction of the Hereditary Chiefs over Wet’suwet’en land, and cease the criminalization of Indigenous Peoples in the country.

For more information and the latest updates from Unist’ot’en Camp, to sign a pledge in support of Unist’ot’en, or to donate to the Unist’ot’en Camp Legal Fund, please click here.