On the front lines of “War in Canada” | Aboriginal rights

When Chief Gisteva’s truck drove up the pine-lined road on the mountain, it snowed. It was Friday evening, and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief and his family took me to Wet’suwet’en Yintah (land or territory).

This is the territory of his ancestors, where he hunted, fished and lived on this land, but when his eyes wandered around this land looking for intruders, it felt like he was sneaking me in. go.

When we approached a bridge parallel to Wedzin Kwa (a sacred Wet’suwet’en river), we found a checkpoint managed by two Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officials. They half-hidden their faces, shone their flashlights on the truck, asked to see the director’s driver’s license, and asked to know what business we were doing on these roads.

Gis’day’wa told them that he was the hereditary chief of this land, and the officers left and asked their superior radio for instructions. The bones of the chief’s ancestors are buried here, and the ancient traces of war and trade of the Wet’suwet’en clan are woven across the vast territory, but now he must obtain permission to enter. After waiting for 10 minutes, the permission is granted.

But not all interactions with the RCMP have been so peaceful. Less than two hours ago, more than a dozen people, including the indigenous land defender and two of my journalist colleagues-photojournalist Amber Bracken and documentary filmmaker Michael Toledano-were still in the distance from this mountain. Arrested at gunpoint a 45-minute drive away.

Lookout at Camp 44 Wood Road, Morris River [Brandi Morin/Al Jazeera]

They were in a hut in Coyote Camp, which was set up by the land defenders on Morice River Forest Service Road. This remote road is the main entrance to the project site and work camp of the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline. The $6.6 billion LNG pipeline will pass through northern British Columbia (BC) and will be 670 kilometers (416 miles) long. Approximately 193 kilometers (120 miles) of this pass through the unsecured Wet’suwet’en territory-land that has never been legally signed to the government or Canada. The camp was established to prevent CGL from planning to drill holes for the pipeline under Wedzin Kwa, which is a pure river that people can drink directly.

On November 14th, members of the Gidimt’en clan-one of the five families of the Wet’suwet’en country, each of which consists of several families-together with other members and supporters of the Wet’suwet’en clan Notice of expulsion from service to CGL.

The hereditary leaders representing the five Wet’suwet’en clans have Rejected CGL, This is only approved by the leader of the band committee.

The Band Committee is part of the system established by the Canadian Indian Act, a racist law that was implemented more than 100 years ago to regulate all aspects of Aboriginal politics, economy, infrastructure, and community development. But many aborigines rejected this colonial system and instead counted on their hereditary chiefs, which are part of the traditional governance system that has existed since ancient times, as leaders.

When CGL’s parent company TC Energy and the provincial and federal governments signed an agreement with the leadership of the band committee, they bypassed the hereditary chiefs.

Gisxtan Land Guard Colin Sutherland Wilson [Brandi Morin/Al Jazeera]

‘Something is happening’

A few hours ago, I had been sending messages to Amber that she had been with the Gidimt’en land defender in the Coyote camp for a few days to let her know that I was on the road. Subsequently, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police came to enforce the injunction of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, allowing CGL to enter the pipeline site.

The last message Amber sent me before his arrest was: “It’s happening.”

The RCMP brought dogs, assault rifles and chainsaws.

Among those arrested at the same time as Amber were Gideon Turn’s spokesperson Sleydo (Sleydo’), also known as Molly Wickham (Molly Wickham), and Gideon Turn’s hereditary chief Wus (Frank · Alec)’s daughter Jocelyn Alec.

Sleydo’s last social media post wrote: “They are destroying the door with an axe and have a k9 device!!!”

When I arrived at another camp 44 under the Morris River Forest Service Road, the fort surrounded by a six-foot-high wooden fence and a small observation deck was only illuminated by moonlight, and smoke from a small burnt-down building . In other huts and tents, there are canned food, flashlights and sleeping bags. Outside, hand-made banners declared “water is life” and “disagree”. nobody. It feels like a ghost town. The Defender of the Land is gone-sitting in Smithers’ concrete cell. The silence chilled my back.

‘Exposure to light’

My destination is the Unist’ot’en ​​treatment camp on the farther mountain. The Unist’ot’en ​​camp is attached to Yex T’sa Wilk’us of Gilseyhu (the dark house of the Big Frog clan), which is part of the Wet’suwet’en country.It consists of Freda Huson, also known as HowilhkatThe fearless matriarch is commanding this epic battle to save her land and the holy Wedzin Kwa. For more than ten years, she has been leading the struggle to protect the Wet’suwet’en territory, setting up camps on her traditional territory to maintain her indigenous rights and protect it from CGL and other pipeline development projects.

Freda Huson at Wedzin Kwah at Unist’ot’en ​​Treatment Camp [Amber Bracken/Al Jazeera]

When I arrived at the camp, Freda and the other matriarchs were busy processing the moose meat harvested in Inta-peeling, cutting, packaging and canning. In the past week, with the chaos that occurred not far from the camp gate and the RCMP helicopter hovering above the camp, Freda seemed surprisingly calm and was not disturbed.

“It’s frustrating… I just know it won’t last,” Freda told me while cleaning the steel lid covering the fresh canned moose meat.

“them [the CGL and provincial and federal governments] It will be their own death, because you cannot continue evil and corruption, it will be exposed to the light,” she continued.

A hut in the Unist’ot’en ​​treatment camp [Amber Bracken/Al Jazeera]

“them [the RCMP] Industry is protected here, because their pensions are invested in industry, and the government must repay every investor…that’s why the Trudeau government supports all these projects,” Freda added, referring to the supervision of the Royal Riding The police’s board of directors pension fund invested in TC Energy.

Freda invited me to spend the night in a rehabilitation center-a place of refuge and loneliness, where people dealing with addiction, trauma and mental health issues can reconnect with this land.

‘This fight is far from over’

The next morning, when the RCMP helicopter flew over our heads, I left with a camp assistant. We drove to Smithers, and from there we drove northwest for an hour to New Hazleton, where members of the neighboring Geistan nation were blocking the Canadian National Railway in support of Wet’suwet’en.

The day before, dozens of police officers brought dogs and guns to defend the train tracks from the unarmed Gisxtan.

Gisxtan allies blockade near the railway to support Wet’suwet’en [Brandi Morin/Al Jazeera]

During the lockdown, I talked with Kolin Sutherland-Wilson, a young Guestan land defender. “We have a mutual defense agreement that goes back thousands of years,” he explained. “This fight is far from over. Those RCMP do not belong here. This is the unclassified Gisxtan Lak Yip, over there is the unclassified Wet’suwet’en Yintah. They will know that your actions will have consequences. This is not the case. Issues that can be resolved by the judiciary. In these international affairs, the royal family has the obligation to meet directly with our leaders.”

The next day, two land defenders were violently arrested by the police. One of them is Denzel, Colin’s brother, who has had a traumatic encounter with the police while protecting indigenous lands. In February 2020, Denzel was photographed from the top of the lookout tower at Gidimt’en camp, when the police pointed at him with an assault rifle from below, and a helicopter hovered above him.

‘We are power’

Outside the RCMP station in New Hazleton, Sabina Dennis, the land defender of Carrier Sekani Nation, who had been arrested many times, appeared to show her support for Denzel and other arrested persons. She explained that she was fighting for everyone’s future.

“These forces imposed on us are acting illegally and immorally and depriving us of our civil liberties when we speak. Everyone in Canada should be angry,” she said.

“Your face will not deceive us,” Sabina Dennis (right) said to Prime Minister Trudeau outside the New Hazleton RCMP station [Brandi Morin/Al Jazeera]

She sent a message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “Trudeau, I know you can’t do anything, I know you lost power a long time ago,” she said.

“Your face can’t deceive us, your beautiful lies can’t deceive us. We know that we are power, and we will never give up our autonomy and power, because that is love; for our family and our children and grandchildren.”

The recent arrest is not the first Wet’suwet’en showdown between the defenders of the land and the RCMPIn January 2019, after CGL obtained a civil injunction from the Supreme Court of British Columbia against Wet’suwet’en Land Defenders, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, wearing military uniform and holding an assault rifle, entered Wet’suwet’en Gidimt’en for inspection Station and camp and 14 land defenders arrested. Later Report The RCMP is ready to use lethal force on the defenders of the land.

Then on February 6, 2020, in the early morning darkness, the RCMP was armed again Assault on the Camp of the Defenders of the Land Set up blocked pipes.Aboriginal allies respond Anger and unity, Shutting down the country’s major infrastructure for nearly two weeks.

The land defenders and journalists arrested last week have now been released, but on the front lines of this battle, Canada is clearly fighting indigenous peoples within its colonial borders.

What is happening here is a battle for survival (PDF) And it happened when the indigenous people were still shocked by the discovery this summer The graves of thousands of indigenous children They died at the boarding school where they were forced to attend-this is a law made by the Canadian government and enforced by the Royal Mounted Police. For months, Canadians wore orange shirts to support the mourners, but they felt that they had turned their backs now.

Indigenous land defenders and supporters wait outside the court [Brandi Morin/Al Jazeera]

Outside the courthouse, I witnessed Wet’suwet’en and other indigenous mothers crying for their children and being arrested for protecting their land, just as many indigenous people were and are crying for the children buried in these graves.

A few days ago, when I returned to the Unist’ot’en ​​treatment camp, I learned that an eagle was hit by an industrial truck in Wet’suwet’en Yintah and was abandoned on the side of the road to die. A land guard found that the holy bird was suffering and took it to the coyote camp, which has now been recovered by Wet’suwet’en. An elder blessed the bird, and its soul slipped away. It is a heartbreaking sign of what is happening here.

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