Wet'suwet'en hereditary chief says RCMP raids and courts orders won't stop pipeline blockade
‘We're not intimidated at all,’ Chief Woos says. ‘We're still going to go back. It's our land'
As far as Chief Woos is concerned, neither the police nor the courts have the right to tell people they can't go near the Coastal GasLink pipeline worksites in northwestern B.C.
On Thursday and Friday, RCMP raided a pipeline blockade by members of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation and their allies, who say the project poses an unwelcome threat to local waterways. At least 29 people were arrested, including a prominent camp leader and two journalists.
Police characterized the raid as a "rescue mission" of more than 500 Coastal GasLink workers, who the company said were unable to get food, water or supplies because of the blockade. Those participating in the blockade say there are alternative roues to the worksites, but the company says those routes are not safe in winter conditions.
Some of those who were arrested have since been released on conditions that they steer clear of the Coastal GasLinkproject. Wet'suwet'en members were told they could return to the area to engage in cultural practices, such as fishing, hunting and trapping, but must stay 75 metres away from the worksites.
Woos is a Wet'suwet'en' hereditary chief for the Cas Yikh, or Grizzly Bear House, of the Gidim'ten clan. The Wet'suwet'en have both elected bands within the colonial system of governance and a traditional hereditary clan system.
Here is part of Woos' conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.
Chief Woos, the British Columbia courts are ordering Wet'suwet'en land defenders not to approach the Coastal GasLink project. So how do you respond to that?
I think that is ludicrous. Never in the history of Canada has this type of interaction happened with the true land owners, which are the hereditary chiefs, the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs.
This industry has been disrespectful, and used the courts to their advantage, and also the RCMP. So that's my feeling on it, and I ain't gonna paint a really nice picture on it either.
A number of the people who were arrested have been given restrictions as to where they can go and how close they can get to the project. Do you expect that many of them will return to the protest line and to that resistance?
It is Cas Yikh territory. That means we're the stewards. We're the ones that make decisions as to who can go on our territory. And it's not up to CGL. It's not up to a court system to decide that. It's not up to them. So I found that a bit insulting. Not a bit, but really insulting.
So those who are opposing this pipeline, they are not intimidated by the arrests and by the RCMP at this point, or by the courts?
No, we're not. We're not intimidated at all.
So you'll continue the resistance, the protest?
It's not a protest. It's more like an awareness of what is really happening out there on the land base, the environmental concerns that we have. And everyone should be aware of the sacred headwaters, the Wedzin Kwa. That really is our focal point right now.
When the RCMP made those arrests and raided the camp, they said that what they needed to do is open the road because there were approximately 500 people who were working with Coastal GasLink pipeline who were behind the camp and behind the road closure, and they were without food and water and needed to be supplied and needed to have that road open in case of an emergency. Were you aware that there were that many people who were at the site?
First off, that's false. Secondly, they had routes coming in from … the Terrace area. And they also had the ability to mobilize food and water through air. They had their helicopters flying over us to the camps. So that was a downright lie that people were out of food and all that. We had people phone us from the inside as a camp saying that there's a lot of food there.
[Editor's Note: TC Energy, which owns Coastal GasLink, said in an email that alternate routes to the worksites are not accessible in winter conditions and "the safety and security of our workers and communities is our number one priority."]
You say it's a lie there were 500 workers there, including, as I understand, some Indigenous workers, some members of Wet'suwet'en? Is that not the case?
I don't deny the fact that there's about 500 people. What I'm saying is there were a lot of provisions out there. There was more than enough food supplies. There was more than enough water. And access to the camp was there. It still is, through the Terrace connector roads out there. There's thousands of roads out there connected to that area.
What do you say to those members of the First Nation, those Indigenous people who don't agree with you? And that this is a quote from the Wet'suwet'en First Nation statement. It says: "The actions of a few members of the Gidimt'en Clan who claim to evict Coastal GasLink from the headwaters of the ... river do not represent the collective views of the Clan or of most Wet'suwet'en people." And it says: "Even though we are also members of the Gidimt'en Clan, the protesters ... have never consulted us about their actions and cannot claim to represent us or any members of the First Nation." What do you say to them?
I say I still respect them. I don't want to move forward in disrespecting any more Wet'suwet'en people. I don't want to move forward anymore [with] these divide-and-conquer tactics by anybody. I still respect people with their own opinions, especially when they're Wet'suwet'en people.
But have you ever consulted them?
I still respect these people, whoever they are. I still respect them. Our system is the way it is for thousands of years. It will never change.
What's to become now of the Coyote Camp?
What I've heard is that the RCMP and their militant approach, they burned the structures down and they bulldozed over everything.
So there's nothing left to go back to, then?
We're still going to go back. It's our land.
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.