British Columbia

Wet'suwet'en members prepare for winter, plan to stay until Coastal GasLink work halted permanently

More than 40 days since they occupied a Coastal GasLink work site near the Wedzin Kwa (Morice River), Wet'suwet'en members and supporters say they're determined to stay put until the company permanently halts work on their territory.

CGL's plans threaten sacred headwaters, says Wet'suwet'en spokesperson at access road checkpoint

The Coastal GasLink pipeline protest checkpoint pictured in 2019. After more than 40 days of occupying a Coastal GasLink work site on their territory, and putting up blockades along the access road to the work site, Wet'suwet'en members and supporters are preparing to stay through the winter. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

It's been more than 40 days since Wet'suwet'en members and supporters occupied a Coastal GasLink work site near the Wedzin Kwa (Morice River) — and despite multiple arrests, they say they're determined to stay put until Coastal GasLink permanently halts work on their territory.

"It's our sacred headwaters, our clean drinking water, and our salmon spawning river," said Sleydo', referring to the Wedzin Kwa. Sleydo', whose English name is Molly Wickham, is the spokesperson for the Gidimt'en Checkpoint, which controls access to the part of the Wet'suwet'en territory on which the drill site is located.

The occupation, which started on Sept. 25, halted efforts by Coastal GasLink to build an essential part of the 670-kilometre pipeline that would transport natural gas from Dawson Creek in northeastern B.C. to Kitimat in the province's North Coast region. 

Around that time, Coastal GasLink said they had completed the final stages of "clearing work" in Wet'suwet'en territory, which involved levelling the ground and removing trees and top soil so construction equipment can move in.

But work was stopped short of the next stage — drilling under the river using a method called 'micro-tunneling,' which Coastal GasLink describes as the "safest and most environmentally responsible method." 

Coastal GasLink's micro-tunneling process would involve drilling 11 metres below the lowest point of the riverbed. The company describes the process as the 'safest method for construction to cross the Morice River.' (CGL Website)

Now Sleydo' says they're preparing to stay for the long haul.

"We're settling in for the winter. There's lots of winterizing happening," she said.

On Oct. 3, Wet'suwet'en members and supporters built a cabin on top of Coastal GasLink's drill pad site, which Chief Dinï ze' Woos of the Gidimt'en Clan named Camp Coyote in a ceremonial opening.

Sleydo' says they are bolstering infrastructure at Camp Coyote to ensure they have a place to stay when temperatures drop.

In late October, the neighbouring Likhts'amisyu Clan also took action against Coastal GasLink work in their territory.

Hereditary chiefs Dsta'hyl and Tse'besa told the company all equipment that was not removed from the territory would be decommissioned and seized "in accordance with [their] laws." 

On Oct. 27, Chief Dsta'hyl and Gitxan activist Kolin Sutherland-Wilson were both arrested on charges of theft, mischief and being found in possession of stolen items — after Dsta'hyl seized components from 10 of Coastal GasLink's heavy machinery. Both have since been released.

In a written statement issued on Oct. 28 in response to what the company called "an escalation in unlawful and dangerous activities by opponents," Coastal GasLink said they are "increasingly concerned about the safety of our workforce and the public."

They also said "every reasonable effort is being made by our teams to de-escalate this situation."

Asked about the ongoing blockades and occupation of their work site, Coastal GasLink declined to comment.

Coastal GasLink installs pipe along its 670 kilometre route from northeastern B.C.'s gas fields to an LNG export terminal in Kitimat, B.C. (Coastal GasLink)

Meanwhile, spirits are high at Camp Coyote, says Sleydo'. 

She also says response to calls for solidarity actions on social media have been enthusiastic, and reflect shifting public opinion around Indigenous sovereignty.

"Society is not willing to stand around and watch while Indigenous peoples' rights are violated anymore," she said.

"It's also a broader issue of the climate crisis that's happening and Indigenous sovereignty."