UNIST’OT’EN CAMP— The RCMP and hereditary chiefs, with media in tow, arrived at the Unist’ot’en camp about 65 kilometres outside of Houston, B.C. in a bid to peacefully shut down the days-old standoff with members of the Wet’suwet’en nation.
The group crossed a checkpoint set up by pipeline protesters on a logging road bridge shortly after 2:30 Wednesday afternoon and are now in discussions as media on the property wait.
The Wet’suwet’en “land defenders” have been hunkered down in the camp since police, in accordance with a court injunction, raided the Gidim’ten checkpoint on Monday that was meant to prevent the start of construction on a gas pipeline on their traditional territory.
Meanwhile, at least three people who were arrested by RCMP at the Gidim’ten checkpoint have been released from custody after promising to show up in court in February, abide the pipeline company’s injunction and to keep the peace, court records show.
A fourth person, 72-year-old Carmen Nikal, was released Monday night, but it is unclear how many of the other 10 are still in custody. Hearings were scheduled to continue in a Prince George court on Wednesday afternoon.
Nikal, who has been bringing her grandchildren to Wet’suwet’en territory for years to teach them about their ancestor’s land, was charged with civil contempt and promised to appear in court on Jan. 14.
The RCMP made the arrests Monday afternoon after they went over a barrier set up on a bridge on the Morice West Forest Service Road by members of the Wet’suwet’en nation, who oppose a deal struck by Coastal GasLink and the elected band council of the nearby Wet’suwet’en First Nation to build a gas pipeline through their traditional territory to a proposed LNG Canada facility in Kitimat, B.C.
All five of the clans that make up the nation are opposed to the pipeline’s construction. The clan chiefs, who inherit their positions but are integral leaders of their communities, say the band council only has jurisdiction over the reserve, not the entire traditional territories.
Molly Wickham, 37, who acted as an informal spokesperson for the Gidimt’en camp when the RCMP broke through the barricade on Monday, was one of the three released, though she remains “very concerned” about the others.
“I’m just sick over what’s happening right now to them,” she said. “We’re doing everything that we can to get them out. We need them to not be in prison for the next month or even the next day.”
Wickham lives with her husband in a cabin beyond km 44 of the Morice West Forest Service Road, which is where police dismantled the Gidimt’en checkpoint on Monday. The second checkpoint is at Unist’ot’en camp, where members have been expecting police since they broke through the Gidimt’en barricade on Monday.
The RCMP were enforcing a B.C. Supreme Court injunction granted to Coastal GasLink in December, after the company argued that the two checkpoints were hampering their ability to begin work on the pipeline.
Unlike the protestors arrested for blocking the gates of the Trans Mountain pipeline project last year — who were charged with criminal contempt of court — the charges against those arrested in connection with the Coastal GasLink injunction are all civil cases.
Dan McLaughlin, communications counsel for the B.C. prosecution service, confirmed by email Wednesday that it is not involved.
With files from Jesse Winter and Perrin Grauer