More than 50 people gathered in front of the RCMP detachment in Whitehorse on Jan. 8 in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en, whose traditional territory was breached by the police force this week. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukoners amass at RCMP detachment in support of Wet’suwet’en

The demonstration was one of more than 50 across Canada and internationally

More than 50 people gathered in front of the RCMP detachment in Whitehorse in solidarity with a northern British Columbia First Nation, whose traditional territory was breached by the police force this week.

Yukoners showed up on Jan. 8 despite some of the most frigid temperatures in Canada bearing flags and placards, one reading, “Shame on the RCMP.” It was so cold that Ron Rousseau’s hide drum broke after a few beats.

The demonstration comes a day after the RCMP stormed the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en, arresting 14. It aligns with over 50 other demonstrations in Canada and internationally — one, for instance, was organized in Italy.

Relations between Indigenous people and the federal government have soured in relation to plans to move natural gas via pipeline from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, B.C.

The company behind the project is Coastal GasLink, a subsidiary of TransCanada Pipelines Ltd.

While the First Nation’s elected band council signed off on the pipeline project, all Wet’suwet’en clans and their houses, headed by hereditary chiefs, are vehemently opposed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “has turned his back on Indigenous people,” said Mark Rutledge, who was part of the Whitehorse demonstration.

“Have the RCMP back off and let diplomacy resume,” he said, adding that there are better ways to resolve disputes than using militarized force.

News photos depict RCMP tactical units donning army-green fatigues and armed with what appear to be high-calibre rifles.

When the Liberal government came into power, Rousseau said, they spoke of a better relationship with Indigenous people. The actions by the RCMP contradict this when they breached a checkpoint, a move “they have no right to do.”

“Removing Indigenous people from their lands, especially hereditary chiefs, is a wrong way to go,” he said. “This is going on across the nation, of Indigenous peoples standing together for their rights, even at -35 C.”

Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said in a strongly worded statement on social media that there was “no reconciliation” in what occurred on Jan. 7.

“This use of force against peaceful people is a violation of human rights and First Nations’ rights,” he said. “If this was really about the ‘rule of law,’ then governments would be honouring the rights and title of First Nations in their traditional territories, which are recognized by Canada’s own courts.”

Members of the Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation had set up a camp and a checkpoint in the area, southwest of Houston, B.C., which they said was to control access.

There’s a second checkpoint called the Unist’ot’en camp, which was the first to be constructed years ago.

In a statement, RCMP say officers spoke with representatives of the camp about the removal of a road block along the roadway, and set up a meeting between hereditary chiefs and Coastal GasLink.

But police say at about 3 p.m., they realized the matter couldn’t be resolved and they took action.

There was a communication failure that afternoon, with several journalists being unreachable for a time.

The statement also addressed what police called “erroneous” reports that RCMP jammed communications in the area, and that the military was present during the police enforcement operation.

“We would like to clarify that both of these allegations are incorrect,” the statement says. “The area is extremely remote and even police had limited access to communication.”

Mounties said earlier Monday they would enforce the interim injunction issued by the B.C. Supreme Court in mid-December. The court ordered the removal of any obstructions interfering with the Coastal GasLink project.

The injunction gave protesters 72 hours to remove obstructions and the police say that had not happened, preventing Coastal GasLink from being able to do any work in the area.

The organizer behind the Whitehorse demonstration, Charles Laanstra, who said he visited the Gidimt’en checkpoint recently, said the RCMP did a “really narrow reading of Indigenous title in this case.”

“They’ve used this to basically run roughshod over Indigenous title to that territory. I absolutely feel it’s excessive,” he said.

The Wet’suwet’en are “looking out for all of us by defending their land and their water.”

The pipeline company says it has signed agreements with all First Nations along the route for LNG Canada’s $40-billion liquefied natural gas project in Kitimat, but demonstrators argue Wet’suwet’en house chiefs have not given consent.

A news release issued Sunday on behalf of Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs says all five Wet’suwet’en clans, including the Gidimt’en, oppose the construction of oil and gas pipelines in their territory.

“The provincial and federal governments must revoke the permits for this project until the standards of free, prior and informed consent are met,” Phillip says in the release.

LNG Canada announced in October that it was moving ahead with its plans for the Kitimat export facility.

Construction on the $6.2-billion pipeline, which is 670 kilometres long, is scheduled to begin this month.

With files from the Canadian Press

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley gives a COVID-19 update during a press conference in Whitehorse on May 26. The Yukon government announced two new cases of COVID-19 in the territory with a press release on Oct. 19. (Alistair Maitland Photography)
Two new cases of COVID-19 announced in Yukon

Contact tracing is complete and YG says there is no increased risk to the public

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on April 8. Yukon Energy faced a potential “critical” fuel shortage in January due to an avalanche blocking a shipping route from Skagway to the Yukon, according to an email obtained by the Yukon Party and questioned in the legislature on Oct. 14. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Energy faced ‘critical’ fuel shortage last January due to avalanche

An email obtained by the Yukon Party showed energy officials were concerned

Jeanie McLean (formerly Dendys), the minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate speaks during legislative assembly in Whitehorse on Nov. 27, 2017. “Our government is proud to be supporting Yukon’s grassroots organizations and First Nation governments in this critical work,” said McLean of the $175,000 from the Yukon government awarded to four community-based projects aimed at preventing violence against Indigenous women. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon government gives $175k to projects aimed at preventing violence against Indigenous women

Four projects were supported via the Prevention of Violence against Aboriginal Women Fund

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone

When I was a kid, CP Air had a monopoly on flights… Continue reading

asdf
EDITORIAL: Don’t let the City of Whitehorse distract you

A little over two weeks after Whitehorse city council voted to give… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Northwestel has released the proposed prices for its unlimited plans. Unlimited internet in Whitehorse and Carcross could cost users between $160.95 and $249.95 per month depending on their choice of package. (Yukon News file)
Unlimited internet options outlined

Will require CRTC approval before Northwestel makes them available

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse. Yukon’s territorial government will sit for 45 days this sitting instead of 30 days to make up for lost time caused by COVID-19 in the spring. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Legislative assembly sitting extended

Yukon’s territorial government will sit for 45 days this sitting. The extension… Continue reading

asdf
Today’s mailbox: Mad about MAD

Letters to the editor published Oct. 16, 2020

Alkan Air hangar in Whitehorse. Alkan Air has filed its response to a lawsuit over a 2019 plane crash that killed a Vancouver geologist on board, denying that there was any negligence on its part or the pilot’s. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Alkan Air responds to lawsuit over 2019 crash denying negligence, liability

Airline filed statement of defence Oct. 7 to lawsuit by spouse of geologist killed in crash

Whitehorse city council members voted Oct. 13 to decline an increase to their base salaries that was set to be made on Jan. 1. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Council declines increased wages for 2021

Members will not have wages adjusted for CPI

A vehicle is seen along Mount Sima Road in Whitehorse on May 12. At its Oct. 13 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the third reading for two separate bylaws that will allow the land sale and transfer agreements of city-owned land — a 127-square-metre piece next to 75 Ortona Ave. and 1.02 hectares of property behind three lots on Mount Sima Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse properties could soon expand

Land sale agreements approved by council

Most Read