/Wet’suwet’en chiefs vs. Coastal GasLink: A guide to the dispute over a B.C. pipeline – The Globe and Mail
Wet’suwet’en chiefs vs. Coastal GasLink: A guide to the dispute over a B.C. pipeline – The Globe and Mail

Wet’suwet’en chiefs vs. Coastal GasLink: A guide to the dispute over a B.C. pipeline – The Globe and Mail

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Near Houston, B.C., Jan. 8: Supporters of the Wet’suwet’en Nation cut trees to use for a canvas tent.

Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

The latest

  • Recently revealed court documents show that RCMP characterized protesters as holding “radicalized ideology” during last year’s standoff over the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northeastern B.C.
  • The pipeline will be built, B.C. Premier John Horgan said Monday amid a long-simmering dispute with hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation who oppose it. “The courts have confirmed that this project can proceed, and it will proceed,” Mr. Horgan said, denying that chiefs should have a veto over Coastal GasLink. “The rule of law must prevail.”
  • RCMP set up a checkpoint Monday to limit access to a section of forest road where the Wet’suwet’en chiefs’ supporters are camped. It is a first step toward enforcing a B.C. Supreme Court injunction granting construction crews access to the road. The Mounties also launched a criminal investigation after dozens of trees were found blocking the road, and stacks of tires and accelerants were discovered nearby.
  • The pipeline has been approved by both the B.C. and federal governments, but it has come under criticism from Amnesty International, B.C.’s Human Rights Commission and the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, who say all First Nations affected by the pipeline should give free, prior and informed consent before it can proceed.

The backstory

Jan. 9, 2019: A blockade stands near the Unist’ot’en camp near Houston, B.C.

Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

In early 2019, a forestry road near Houston, B.C., was the scene of a tense standoff between RCMP and members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. At issue were Coastal GasLink’s plans to build a pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory, part of a $6.6-billion project to bring natural gas from northeastern B.C. to Kitimat on the coast. Five elected Wet’suwet’en band councils supported it, but hereditary chiefs remained opposed.

At two Wet’suwet’en camps, Unist’ot’en and Gitdumden (also spelled Gidimt’en), blockades obstructed Coastal GasLink’s path to build the pipeline. RCMP set up roadblocks and arrested people to enforce an injunction allowing workers to use the road. Days later, the threat of more conflict was averted by an agreement that the RCMP would leave Unist’ot’en’s healing lodge alone and allow the Wet’suwet’en to trap in the backcountry unimpeded.

In the year since then, Coastal GasLink cleared some land to make room for construction workers’ camps, but disputes over the pipeline and trapping rights continued to escalate in the area. Coastal GasLink said staff found trees partly cut down on a road to Unist’ot’en. A Wet’suwet’en house group gave Coastal GasLink an eviction notice and cancelled the deal reached the year before. Eventually Coastal GasLink put construction on hold. Meanwhile, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that the anti-pipeline group had harmed Coastal GasLink’s interests and RCMP had another deadline to enforce an injunction.

ALASKA

Site of protests near Morice River

Houston

Kitimat

ALTA.

16

97

80

KM

Morice River

Kamloops

Coastal GasLink’s

pipeline project

Morice R. Forest Service Rd.

TC Energy’s

existing gas

transmission

system

1

KM

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

source: b.c. rcmp; thetyee.ca

ALASKA

Site of protests near Morice River

Houston

ALTA.

Kitimat

16

97

80

KM

Morice River

Kamloops

Coastal GasLink’s

pipeline project

Morice River Forest Service Rd.

TC Energy’s

existing gas

transmission

system

1

KM

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, source: b.c. rcmp;

thetyee.ca

ALASKA

Site of protests near Morice River

Houston

ALTA.

Kitimat

16

97

80

KM

Morice River

Kamloops

Coastal GasLink’s

pipeline project

Morice River Forest Service Rd.

TC Energy’s

existing gas

transmission

system

1

KM

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, source: b.c. rcmp; thetyee.ca

A Wet’suwet’en who’s who

John Ridsdale, also called Namoks, is one of the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

Within the Wet’suwet’en Nation, the pipeline dispute hinges on an old question many First Nations in Canada face: Whether authority over resource development lies with elected band councils, hereditary leaders or both. Five elected Wet’suwet’en band councils, whose authority is coded in the federal Indian Act, signed agreements with Coastal GasLink, along with 15 other B.C. elected band councils that accepted the pipeline. But the Wet’suwet’en also have a system of five matrilineal clans and 13 houses, each of which has at least one hereditary chief. Together the chiefs oversee traditional territories that, like many First Nations lands in B.C., were never ceded by treaty.

Two house chiefs supported the pipeline, only to have their titles stripped by other chiefs. Eight of the house chiefs say the risk of environmental damage to the land is too great to allow the pipeline, and are part of the movement against it. This includes Warner Naziel, chief of the Laksamshu clan’s Sun House, who is the defendant in a lawsuit by Coastal GasLink along with his former partner, Freda Huson. Coastal GasLink accuses them of being the ones behind the Unist’ot’en camp, which is affiliated with a Gilseyhu house, Dark House.​

WET’SUWET’EN NATION

The Wet’suwet’en Nation comprises five clans

and 13 house groups in the British Columbia

Interior. A non-profit society, the Office of the

Wet’suwet’en, represents the interests of

hereditary chiefs in the area.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs

GIL_SEYHU

Clan name

(Big Frog Clan)

Goohlaht

Yex T’sa wit’ant’

House name

(Thin House)

Knedebeas

Unist’ot’en

is affiliated

with

Dark House

(Dark House)

Samooh

Kayex

(Birchbark House)

GITDUMDEN

LAKSILYU

(Small Frog Clan)

(Wolf and Bear Clan)

Wah Tah Kwets

Woos

Kwen Beegh Yex

Cassyex

(House Beside the Fire)

(Grizzly House)

Hagwilnegh

Gisday’wa

G’en egh l_a yex

Kaiyexweniits

(House of Many Eyes)

(House in the Middle

of Many)

Wah Tah K’eght

Tsee K’al K’e yex

Madeek

(House on a Flat Rock)

Anaskaski

(Where it Lies

Blocking the Trail)

TSAYU

LAKSAMSHU

(Beaver Clan)

(Fireweed and Owl Clan)

Kloum Khun

Kwees

Medzeyex

Djakanyex

(Beaver House)

(Owl House)

Namox

Smogelgem

Tsa K’en yex

Tsaiyex

(Rafters on

Beaver House)

(Sun House)

Note: In this version of the chart, the order of the

clans has been stacked due to space considerations.

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: wetsuweten.com

WET’SUWET’EN NATION

The Wet’suwet’en Nation comprises five clans and 13

house groups in the British Columbia Interior.

A non-profit society, the Office of the Wet’suwet’en,

represents the interests of hereditary chiefs in the area.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs

GIL_SEYHU

Clan name

(Big Frog Clan)

Goohlaht

Yex T’sa wit’ant’

House name

(Thin House)

Knedebeas

Unist’ot’en

is affiliated

with

Dark House

(Dark House)

Samooh

Kayex

(Birchbark House)

LAKSILYU

GITDUMDEN

(Small Frog Clan)

(Wolf and Bear Clan)

Wah Tah Kwets

Woos

Kwen Beegh Yex

Cassyex

(House Beside the Fire)

(Grizzly House)

Hagwilnegh

Gisday’wa

G’en egh l_a yex

Kaiyexweniits

(House of Many Eyes)

(House in the Middle

of Many)

Wah Tah K’eght

Tsee K’al K’e yex

Madeek

(House on a Flat Rock)

Anaskaski

(Where it Lies

Blocking the Trail)

TSAYU

LAKSAMSHU

(Beaver Clan)

(Fireweed and Owl Clan)

Kloum Khun

Kwees

Medzeyex

Djakanyex

(Beaver House)

(Owl House)

Namox

Smogelgem

Tsa K’en yex

Tsaiyex

(Rafters on

Beaver House)

(Sun House)

Note: In this version of the chart, the order of the

clans has been stacked due to space considerations.

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: wetsuweten.com

WET’SUWET’EN NATION

The Wet’suwet’en Nation comprises five clans and 13 house groups in the British

Columbia Interior. A non-profit society, the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, represents

the interests of hereditary chiefs in the area.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs

GILSEYHU

LAKSILYU

GITDUMDEN

Clan name

(Big Frog Clan)

(Small Frog Clan)

(Wolf and Bear Clan)

Goohlaht

Wah Tah Kwets

Woos

Yex T’sa wit’ant’

Kwen Beegh Yex

Cassyex

House name

(Thin House)

(House Beside the Fire)

(Grizzly House)

Knedebeas

Unist’ot’en

is affiliated

with

Dark House

Hagwilnegh

Gisday’wa

G’en egh l_a yex

Kaiyexweniits

(House of Many Eyes)

(House in the

Middle of Many)

(Dark House)

Wah Tah K’eght

Samooh

Madeek

Tsee K’al K’e yex

Kayex

Anaskaski

(House on a Flat Rock)

(Birchbark House)

(Where it Lies

Blocking the Trail)

TSAYU

LAKSAMSHU

(Beaver Clan)

(Fireweed and Owl Clan)

Kloum Khun

Kwees

Note: In this

version of

the chart, the

order of the

clans has been

stacked due to

space consider-

ations.

Medzeyex

Djakanyex

(Beaver House)

(Owl House)

Na’Moks

Smogelgem

Tsa K’en yex

Tsaiyex

(Rafters on

Beaver House)

(Sun House)

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: wetsuweten.com

WET’SUWET’EN NATION

The Wet’suwet’en Nation comprises five clans and 13 house groups in the British Columbia Interior.

A non-profit society, the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, represents the interests of hereditary chiefs in the area.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs

LAKSILYU

TSAYU

LAKSAMSHU

GITDUMDEN

GILSEYHU

Clan name

(Big Frog Clan)

(Small Frog Clan)

(Beaver Clan)

(Fireweed and Owl Clan)

(Wolf and Bear Clan)

Kloum Khun

Goohlaht

Wah Tah Kwets

Kwees

Woos

Yex T’sa wit’ant’

Kwen Beegh Yex

Djakanyex

Cassyex

Medzeyex

House name

(Thin House)

(House Beside the Fire)

(Grizzly House)

(Beaver House)

(Owl House)

Knedebeas

Unist’ot’en

is affiliated

with

Dark House

Hagwilnegh

Na’Moks

Smogelgem

Gisday’wa

G’en egh l_a yex

Tsa K’en yex

Kaiyexweniits

Tsaiyex

(House of Many Eyes)

(Rafters on

Beaver House)

(Sun House)

(House in the Middle

of Many)

(Dark House)

Wah Tah K’eght

Samooh

Tsee K’al K’e yex

Kayex

Madeek

(House on a Flat Rock)

(Birchbark House)

Anaskaski

(Where it Lies Blocking

the Trail)

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: wetsuweten.com

WET’SUWET’EN NATION

Unist’ot’en is affiliated with Dark House, one of 13 hereditary house groups under the Wet’suwet’en Nation in British Columbia’s

Interior. A non-profit society, the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, represents the interests of hereditary chiefs in the area.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs

LAKSILYU

TSAYU

LAKSAMSHU

GITDUMDEN

GILSEYHU

Clan name

(Big Frog Clan)

(Small Frog Clan)

(Beaver Clan)

(Fireweed and Owl Clan)

(Wolf and Bear Clan)

Kloum Khun

Goohlaht

Wah Tah Kwets

Kwees

Woos

Yex T’sa wit’ant’

Kwen Beegh Yex

Djakanyex

Cassyex

Medzeyex

House name

(Thin House)

(House Beside the Fire)

(Grizzly House)

(Beaver House)

(Owl House)

Knedebeas

Unist’ot’en

is affiliated

with

Dark House

Hagwilnegh

Na’Moks

Smogelgem

Gisday’wa

G’en egh l_a yex

Tsa K’en yex

Tsaiyex

Kaiyexweniits

(House of Many Eyes)

(Rafters on

Beaver House)

(Sun House)

(House in the Middle

of Many)

(Dark House)

Wah Tah K’eght

Samooh

Tsee K’al K’e yex

Kayex

Madeek

(Birchbark House)

(House on a Flat Rock)

Anaskaski

(Where it Lies Blocking

the Trail)

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: wetsuweten.com

The legal issues at stake

Land claims: The pipeline opponents’ case hinges on the 1997 Delgamuukw decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, which involved land claims by the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan people. It upheld Indigenous peoples’ rights to lands never ceded by treaty, but didn’t answer specific questions of title by the Wet’suwet’en or Gitxsan.

Artifacts: The chiefs have also pinned their legal arguments on stone artifacts they say were unearthed at Camp 9A, a site on the construction route. B.C. government protocols require a perimeter around sites where heritage objects are found. There is no doubt that the artifacts are authentic, but legal action by Coastal GasLink has disputed whether they were really found there or planted to prevent construction. The Globe and Mail’s Brent Jang interviewed more than 20 people familiar with the case and examined court records to piece together the timeline of how the artifacts were found and the debate about what should happen to Camp 9A.

More reading

Opinion

Stephen O’Neill: For the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan peoples, justice has been denied. What else is new?

Editorial: Wet’suwet’en politics collide with a natural gas pipeline

In depth

In Wet’suwet’en territory, torn loyalties over the future of a nation and a pipeline

The Globe’s coverage of the 2019 Wet’suwet’en standoff

‘I’m here in support of the Wet’suwet’en people’: Portraits of protest at the anti-pipeline camp in B.C.

Protests erupt across the country in showdown over B.C. natural gas pipeline

Indigenous land rights: The big picture

This pipeline is challenging Indigenous law and Western law. Who really owns the land?


Compiled by Globe staff

Based on reporting from Brent Jang, Justine Hunter, Wendy Stueck and The Canadian Press


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