Protesting for ‘our great-great-grandchildren’, Indigenous chief says

Story by CBC Kids News • Published 2019-01-08 16:45

B.C. pipeline protest inspires rallies across North America and beyond

UPDATE: On Jan. 9, the protesters agreed to allow energy company workers to access the area, in order to prevent more arrests. They were clear to say this doesn't mean they approve of the project.

The arrest of 14 protesters in northern B.C. led to rallies of support across North America — and as far away as Europe — on Tuesday.

The protesters were fighting the construction of a pipeline called the Coastal GasLink project.

The point of the pipeline is to move natural gas to the B.C. coast so it can be shipped overseas.

Woman in fur coat looks concerned as she stands outdoors in front of police.

RCMP officers say they were following a judge's orders when they made the arrests.  (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

The RCMP made the arrests on Jan. 7 after breaking down a roadblock on a remote road near Houston, B.C.

The roadblock was part of a camp set up by members of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation to block energy company workers from starting construction of the pipeline.

Some version of the camp has been in place since 2010.

Large painted wooden sign in snow reads: Stop Didimt'en Checkpoint

Members of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation set up checkpoints to stop workers from building the pipeline. (Facebook/Canadian Press)

Why block the pipeline?

TransCanada, the company behind the project, said it signed agreements with all First Nations governments along the pipeline route.

But the five hereditary leaders of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation said those agreements don’t apply to land outside of reserves.

Some definitions:

Reserves are pieces of land set aside for use by the members of a particular First Nations band.

Hereditary leaders are those chiefs who aren’t elected but inherited their titles, meaning the positions were passed down over generations.

Older man with white hair and concerned expression stands in the snow.

Chief Madeek, hereditary leader of the Gidimt'en clan, says he's concerned about future generations. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

What do the protesters say?

One of the hereditary leaders, Chief Madeek, said the goal of the protest is to protect the land in northern B.C. from development.

"This is what we're here for,” he said, to preserve nature in the area "for our grandchildren and our great-great-grandchildren.”

In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada — the most important court in the country — confirmed Indigenous people in the region never gave up their ownership of the land.

A crowd of people sing and drum in the middle of the street.

A crowd of people took over a Toronto street as one of many protests that happened on Jan. 8 across Canada, the U.S. and Europe. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC) 

What do the police say?

RCMP said they made the arrests on following a ruling by a B.C. Supreme Court judge in December that called on the protesters to stop blocking the road.

In a statement, the RCMP said its main focus was “the safety of everyone involved.”

What does the province say?

The B.C. government said it’s up to the RCMP to decide how to honour the court ruling.

The statement also said “we recognize the right for people to engage in peaceful protest.”

RCMP officers broke through a roadblock and arrested 14 people on Jan. 7. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

What does the company say?

A spokesperson for the Coastal GasLink project said getting the courts and police involved was necessary after spending years trying to work out an agreement with protesters.

On its website, TransCanada said the goal of the project is to safely transport natural gas, which many people rely on as an energy source.

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