News of Monday’s events travelled slowly, as communications in the area were down. RCMP in Houston blamed a problem with “one of the satellites” and denied deliberately cutting communications, as they could only reach their own officers via radio.
Earlier in the day, through a locked gate strewn with barbed wire, RCMP negotiated with members of the Wet’suwet’en nation in an effort to get the Indigenous group to remove the barriers blocking the only access point to their traditional territory.
The first sign of police presence was a helicopter overhead, which cut through the silence of the snow-laden forest and sent camp members surging to the gate to greet the incoming police caravan.
Molly Wickham, a member of the Gidimt’en clan, spoke with officers through the barricade along with Chief Madeek, also of the Gidimt’en clan. Wickham would be arrested later in the day.
Wickham and Chief Madeek told the officers no meaningful conversation would take place without the presence of the hereditary chiefs, under whose jurisdiction the territories fall.
After some back-and-forth, RCMP said they would allow one hereditary chief from each of the five Wet’suwet’en clans to pass through an RCMP checkpoint at kilometre 12 of the forestry service road, so long as they could make it there by noon.
This gave the chiefs an hour to make it to the police checkpoint. If they couldn’t meet the deadline, it would be “down to business” for police, one Gidimt’en camp member speculated.
Afterward, Wickham said even a “token” gesture to allow the presence of a few chiefs would exclude more than half the hereditary chiefs whose territories are at stake.
Police had not reached out to camp members before Monday’s meeting at the barricade, Wickham said, nor had she or her allies seen the amended injunction that concerned their gate.
The injunction gave protesters 72 hours to remove obstructions. Police said that had not happened, preventing Coastal GasLink from being able to do any work in the area.
The construction of the Gidimt’en camp followed the original court injunction, granted Dec. 14 against the Unist’ot’en camp checkpoint farther along the road. Coastal GasLink argued the Unist’ot’en checkpoint, erected around 2012, effectively stalled construction on the pipeline project.
Camp members used the hour to refuel, warm up, send messages to loved ones and rest for whatever lay ahead.
RCMP ERT members just prior to the Jan 7, 2019 raid. Photo by Michael Toledano.
The arrival of police was anticipated, since RCMP officers, numbering a dozen and possibly more, took up residence in hotels in Burns Lake, Smithers and Houston over the weekend. Camp allies reported Monday that RCMP officers left Houston before dawn to go to the checkpoints.
Before police arrived, camp members were anxious about the possibility of a conflict but were largely in good spirits — sharing hot drinks out of thermoses, eating soup cooked in a nearby tent and huddling around campfires to stay warm.
Overnight on Sunday, as temperatures dipped to -15 C, the glow and crackle of the fires penetrated the silence of the snow-covered forest.
When morning broke, a woman said a prayer, giving thanks for the day. Flags had been tied to branches mounted alongside the camp tents.
“When I look at each of you, I see a thousand allies,” she said to the small group gathered around. “A thousand allies in every one of you.”
Roughly 30 rallies are being organized across Canada, the United States and even Italy in support of the Wet’suwet’en nation members blocking the pipeline construction, according to various Facebook pages listing the events. This includes a rally outside the Calgary headquarters of TransCanada PipeLines Ltd. on Tuesday at noon.
In recent months, Calgary has seen mass rallies of oil-and-gas supporters frustrated with the lack of progress on major infrastructure projects, such as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The city is also home to the headquarters of some of Canada’s biggest oil-and-gas companies.
Michelle Robinson, a co-organizer with the Calgary rally in support of the Wet’suwet’en members, said this makes a rally in the city even more important.
“It’s incredibly important for us to be in solidarity because this isn’t something all of us consent (to),” Robinson said.
In Edmonton, a rally has been organized by Climate Justice Edmonton and Indigenous Climate Action at Beaver Hills House Park for Tuesday afternoon, according to a Facebook page for the event.
With files from David P. Ball, Brennan Doherty, Jeremy Nuttall and The Canadian Press
Correction — Jan. 7, 2019: This story has been edited from an earlier version that incorrectly stated that police set a fire to block a bridge. The fire was set by demonstrators.