First Nations leaders call on RCMP to refrain from violence in pipeline standoff

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      B.C.'s First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC) has issued a statement calling on the RCMP to eschew violence in dealing with protesters trying to stop construction of a pipeline in northern B.C.

      And a regional chief told the Straight that he didn't think the police would repeat the tactics used in a raid on one of the protest camps a year ago.

      The FNLC release, issued January 16, said that Indigenous leaders are "growing increasingly alarmed that violence may erupt between the RCMP and First Nations" at a roadblock set up to prevent construction crews and others from preparing to build the TransCanada Coastal GasLink pipeline.

      The RCMP are restricting access to the roadblock on the Morice Forest Service Road near Houston, in the central Interior of the province. The police have had a permanent presence on the road for the past year. The FNLC is made up of the leaders of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Summit, and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

      Witset band councillor and Unist'ot'en spokesperson Freda Huson speaks to an RCMP officer on the Morice Forest Service Road.

      A B.C. Supreme Court injunction against the protesters was extended on December 31, 2019. The protesters, mostly from the Wet'suwet'en Nation, claim to be defending their title and rights on traditional, unceded territories inhabited by members of five clans who also belong to House groups guided by hereditary chiefs. The Office of the Wet'suwet'en is based in Smithers and offers various services to the Nation; it is not affiliated with government-funded, elected tribal councils or bands.

      On January 14, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association announced that it would be filing legal complaints to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP on behalf of two Indigenous supporters of the protest camp who were denied access to the camp at the police exclusion zone while bringing food and supplies.

      In the statement, regional chief Terry Teegee of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations questioned RCMP jurisdiction in Wet'suwet'en territories: "While we are in the early days of Bill 41 and the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [UNDRIP] in B.C., it is imperative as we move forward that mutual consent be obtained. In this circumstance, it is not only B.C. or federal law that determines if consent is obtained here, but also, Wet’suwet’en law must be given due consideration. I strongly urge that all discretion be intelligent, reasonable and measured.”

      First Nations Summit member Cheryl Casimer urged "respectful dialogue" on the part of police. "Bill 41 and the UN Declaration provide the framework necessary for the parties to work through the issues without RCMP interference. We urge the RCMP to refrain from the use of any unnecessary force on Wet’suwet’en peoples and others who have been peacefully protesting construction of the pipeline. We encourage respectful dialogue and open lines of communication among the RCMP and opponents of the pipeline who remain in the vicinity of the Unist’ot’en camp in unceded Wet’suwet’en territory and urge the RCMP to exercise extreme caution and diplomacy."

      Teegee, a member of the Takla Lake First Nation and a registered professional forester, told the Straight by phone that he was in touch with RCMP and was hopeful that they would refrain from any precipitous action such as the raid on the Gidimt’en access point camp a year ago, on January 7, 2019, on the same forestry road 20 kilometres east of the main Unist'ot'en camp. In that raid, which featured dozens of police vehicles, helicopters, and RCMP snipers, 14 protesters were arrested for defying a court-ordered injunction obtained by Coastal GasLink (CGL), builders of the $6.2 billion natural gas pipeline to Kitimat, B.C., on the central coast.

      "They won't do what they did last year, so that's good. I think there were some lessons learned from that," he said. 

      He added that as far as he knew there had been no change in the standoff on the Morice road.