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One year after tense standoff, Wet suwet en hereditary chiefs issue eviction notice to gas company

One year after tense standoff, Wet suwet en hereditary chiefs issue eviction notice to gas company
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Freda Huson, a spokesperson for the Wet suwot en Dark House clan, delivers an eviction notice to a Coastal GasLink employee on Jan. 4, 2020 in a still from a video posted to the Unist ot en Camp website. (Unist ot en Camp)

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VANCOUVER -- Nearly one year after a tense standoff between members of the Wet suwet en Nation and RCMP that ended with 14 people arrested, Wet suwet en hereditary chiefs have delivered an eviction notice to a natural gas company, and barricades are again blocking access to a forestry road west of Houston, B.C.

During the 2019 blockade in a remote area west of Houston, B.C., RCMP officers stormed the barriers and to enforce a court injunction allowing access to the area.

Coastal GasLink, a company with offices in Vancouver, Calgary and Prince George, is working to build a 670 kilometre natural gas pipeline from Dawson Creek to Kitimat.

On Dec. 31, a B.C. Supreme Court judge granted another injunction to prevent Wet suwet en members and their supporters from blocking access to Coastal GasLink worksites. In her decision, Justice Marguerite Church wrote that Coastal GasLink s work had been delayed, and employees had been subjected to "intimidating behaviour" and "verbal harassment."

In a statement issued Jan. 5, Coastal GasLink said employees have found trees felled across the Morice River Forest Service Road, making the road impassable. The company said the action is a clear violation of the injunction.

That Dec. 31 injunction is what sparked the decision to again block access, said Molly Wickham, a spokesperson for the Gidimten clan, one of five clans that make up the Wet suwet en Nation.

"We have been pushed to the point where we will not be removed from Gidimt en Territory, or from Unist ot en Territory again, as we saw last year," Wickham said, referring to a clan and a house group within the Wetsuweten Nation.

Wickham said the blockade will be non-violent, and supporters will not be armed.

Coastal GasLink has all the permits in place to build the pipeline, and have entered into community and benefit agreements with 20 First Nations along the pipeline route.

In its Jan. 5 statement, the company said it had been complying with an access agreement with Dark House, also known as Unistoten, to allow access beyond the Morice River bridge. In return, the company had been providing funding to the Unistoten to pay for their own full-time security in the area.

The company said it was disappointed that Unistoten had ended the agreement.

We have reached out to better understand their reasons and are hopeful we can find a mutually agreeable path forward, the company said. To that end, we are requesting to meet with Unistoten and the Hereditary Chiefs as soon as possible.

Coastal GasLink has all the permits in place to build the pipeline, and have entered into community and benefit agreements with 20 First Nations along the pipeline route.

But the Wet suwet en hereditary chiefs, who oppose the pipeline, say the nation never signed treaties or agreed to sell its land to Canada, and therefore continues to have legal control over the land.

Two northern B.C. First Nations, the Gitxsan and Wet suwet en, fought a decade-long court case in the 1990s that ended with the Delgamuukw decision, a landmark court decision when it comes to establishing Indigenous title in Canada.

"The final ruling in that court case was that Wet suwet en title had never been extinguished, in 22,000 square kilometres of our territory," Wickham said.

In granting the Dec. 31 injunction to prevent Wet suwet en members and their supporters from blocking access to Coastal GasLink worksites, Church wrote that B.C. law still applies to Wet suwet en territory.

"The defendants are seeking to exclude the application of British Columbia law within Wetsuweten territory, which is something that Canadian law will not entertain," Church wrote in her decision.

But Wickham said Wet suwet en law does give the nation the right to "not only evict trespassers, it allows us to restrict access to our territory." She said members of the Wet suwet en nation are concerned that Coastal GasLink will prevent them from accessing their own territory.

As the anniversary of the RCMP standoff nears, the Wet suwet en are calling for others to join them for a "week of solidarity" starting Jan. 7.

"This is not just something that s going to affect Indigenous people or the Wet suwet en," Wickham said. "This project is going to affect everyone, because of the magnitude of this gas project."
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