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Wet’suwet’en Coastal GasLink Pipeline Dispute: Every Word You Need To Know

Wet’suwet’en Coastal GasLink Pipeline Dispute: Every Word You Need To Know
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The dispute between Indigenous hereditary chiefs and RCMP enforcing an injunction to build the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their land has exploded into a national headline, as protesters and land defenders occupy ports, rail lines and intersections across Canada to draw attention not only to the pipeline, but also to Indigenous land rights on the whole.

From Halifax to Victoria, chants of Wetsuweten strong are echoing out. Hundreds of protesters successfully , delaying the speech from the throne. CN rail could potentially close rail lines as a result of protests across Canada.

But what is the difference between Unistoten and Wetsuweten? How about elected band councils and hereditary chiefs? What do all those kilometre marks mean when you hear them referred to in the media?

Its important to know what youre talking about when youre talking about the dispute in northern B.C., so heres a handy guide to all the terms and names you might hear surrounding it. For the latest updates on the evolving story and nationwide protests, click here .

The Wetsuweten are a First Nations people residing in northern British Columbia. The nation is composed of five clans: the Gilseyhu (Big Frog), Laksilyu (Small Frog), Gitdumden (Wolf/Bear), Laksamshu (Fireweed) and Tsayu (Beaver). Wetsuweten means People of the Wa Dzun Kwuh River (Bulkley River), referring to the river that snakes through Wetsuweten land.

The traditional lands of the Wetsuweten, an area covering hundreds of square kilometres in central northwestern B.C.

Erica Rae Chong/HuffPost Canada

Planned construction phases along the proposed pipeline route and how it intersections with Wet suwet en territory.

Refers to the encampment set up at kilometre 66. It is the most established of the camps, with permanent dwellings and a healing lodge. Unistoten was actually established in 2009 in anticipation of pipeline construction efforts on Wetsuweten land. It acts as a checkpoint of sorts, and people are not permitted to pass through without permission from Wetsuweten hereditary chiefs. It also contains a key bridge, which Coastal GasLink says is essential for crews to access the pipeline construction area. You might be familiar with the bridge from images of a barrier literally with the word reconciliation being torn down by RCMP on Monday.

Another camp along the route, named for the Wolf/Bear clan.

Youll often hear locations along the Morice West Forest Service Road described by number of kilometres the Unistoten camp, for example, is located at kilometre 66 west. This number refers to the kilometre marker on the road indicating how far off of Highway 16 a stretch of which is often known as the Highway of Tears the camp is. The first Wetsuweten camp is located at kilometre 33.

This phrase is used in reference to an ever-shifting area set up by the RCMP where they are giving people within the opportunity to leave or face arrest. This is the area under the court injunction. It also happens to encompass a lot of Wetsuweten land. When you read about people being arrested, its likely in the exclusion zone. The exclusion zone has also been called into question in its legality.

There is absolutely no legal precedent nor established legal authority for such an overbroad policing power associated with the enforcement of an injunction, reads a letter from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association to RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki.

The arbitrary RCMP exclusion zone and overbroad access restrictions are completely unjustified and unlawful, and constitute a serious violation of Indigenous rights.

For more on those rights, see Delgamuukw v British Columbia below.

The injunction were talking about here is one issued by the B.C. Supreme Court on Dec. 31, which granted Coastal GasLink an expanded injunction against the Wetsuweten Nation members blocking access to the project. On Thursday, RCMP began enforcing that injunction and arresting people on the route. Dozens of protesters and land defenders have been forcibly removed from the territory contained within the exclusion zone as a result of the injunction.

The company behind the pipeline. The $6.6-billion, 670-kilometre pipeline would carry natural gas across northern B.C. According to Coastal GasLinks website , the company consulted with First Nations, government, landowners and stakeholders when deciding the pipelines route. The pipeline is set to terminate at Kitimat, not far from the Unistoten camp.

Hereditary Chief Ronnie West from the Lake Babine First Nation, sings and beats a drum during a solidarity march in Smithers, B.C., on Jan. 16, 2019.

Coastal GasLink says it has signed agreements with the elected council of all 20 First Nations along the route, including the Wetsuweten. Now this is where it gets tricky. Elected band councils are very different from hereditary chiefs (see below). Band councils were established by the Indian Act to have authority over reserve lands. So while the band councils may agree to something, that doesnt mean they have the permission of traditional authority structures.

A council of 13 hereditary chiefs governs the traditional structure of the Wetsuweten predating colonialism and represents the five clans. And its the hereditary chiefs who oppose the pipeline and the hereditary chief whom thousands of protesters across the country are standing in solidarity with. They say theyve never agreed for the pipeline to pass through their territory or to hand over land for its construction.

Wet suwet en Hereditary Chiefs Rob Alfred, John Ridsdale and Antoinette Austin take part in a rally in Smithers B.C.

Wetsuweten land is unceded, meaning it was never signed over on paper to Canada through a treaty. This is important, because the Wetsuweten hereditary chiefs assert a legal right to the land and a right to decide who uses it for what. Of course, its important to note than even if a treaty was signed between Canada and existing Indigenous peoples, that doesnt mean the land was given up or given away. Theres a lot of complexity behind the legacy of the treaty system.

This landmark court case in the Supreme Court of Canada from 1997 established Indigenous rights to traditional territories and was the first comprehensive account of Aboriginal title a common law doctrine that essentially says Indigenous peoples rights persist after settler colonialism in Canada.

While the case upheld Indigenous peoples claims to unceded lands, it didnt resolve the specific question of title for the Wetsuweten, and subsequent court cases were never launched so things are still very much up in the air in a legal sense.

But a big part of that title and claim to land defined by the Supreme Court comes from continuous occupation a hypocrisy many are pointing out as Wetsuweten people occupying their land to prove ownership are being forced off it by the injunction.
Read more on The Huffington Post
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